British Import Crisis

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Chapter 8

U.S. Merchant Shipping and the British Import Crisis

by Richard M. Leighton

(See end of file for information on author.)

In March 1943 the partnership of the United States and Great Britain faced one of its severest tests. Allied military fortunes in that month seemed at a low ebb-not in the same sense as a year earlier, when the war itself had seemed about to be lost, but as a result of an almost complete reversal of the bright expectations that had prevailed at the Casablanca Conference only a few weeks before. The reversal was a matter partly of military defeats and setbacks in the field, partly of a sudden upturn in Merchant Shipping losses, and partly of the revelation that the estimated shipping capabilities on which the Casablanca strategic decisions had rested had been seriously overestimated. At this critical juncture, the British authorities demanded large additional tonnages of American shipping in support of their own war effort at home and overseas. The Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that the effect would be to cripple American operations overseas for the remainder of the year. The President decided, nevertheless, to grant the request. It was one of the rare occasions during the war when Roosevelt clearly overruled his military advisers in a matter intimately related to high strategy. In this case the results spectacularly vindicated his judgment, for the gloomy predictions of the military experts failed to materialize. The incident strikingly illustrates Roosevelt's real ascendancy over the military high command when he chose to assert it, and the informal, almost haphazard, means by which he

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made it effective. It also stands as a landmark in the development of Anglo-American military-economic collaboration, which made the alliance of the two countries in World War II one of the most effective in the history of coalition warfare. [1]

Anglo-American Shipping Collaboration in 1942

The Anglo-American partnership in World War II achieved a union and coordination of the war-making resources of the two countries unprecedented in their efficiency, a genuine pooling of effort on many fronts behind the military front. Nor was it wholly a case of a strong power supporting a weaker one. American aid did enable the British to fight, as Churchill has pointed out, as though they were a nation of fifty-eight million instead of forty-eight million people. [2] On the other hand Britain's war effort, skillfully meshed with America's, enabled the United States to produce on a scale that would otherwise have been impossible. Britain put almost 11 percent of its population into uniform; the United States less than 8 percent. The disparity is significant, and no less so because the two figures are not very far apart. The Anglo-American alliance represented a union of societies, both heavily industrialized, urban, and economically mature, whose similarities outweighed their differences. Collaboration between them demanded administrative and technical adjustments far more intricate than that between, say, the United States and China, which was wholly a matter of material and technical assistance on one side and manpower on the other. Timing was also important. Britain's mobilization was almost complete by the time U.S. mobilization swung into high gear after Pearl Harbor. For one year Britain fought alone, and,


[1] The story of the shipping crisis of March 1943 and the developments leading to it can be found, in slightly less detail than given here, in Richard M. Leighton and Robert W. Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-1943 (Washington, 1955), Chs. XXV and XXVI, this work should also be consulted for the general background and ramifications of the episode. The study is based on research in primary records of the War Department, the Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff, and the U.S. War Shipping Administration; these last are at present in the custody of the U.S. Maritime Administration. Rather sketchy accounts of the crisis, from the British point of view, are given in C. B. A. Behrens, Merchant Shipping and the Demands of War (London: H. M. Stationery Office and Longmans, Green Co., 1955), Ch. XVII, and W. K. Hancock and M. M. Gowing, British War Economy (London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1949), Ch. XIV, both in the official British History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Civil Series. These two works are, of course, invaluable for an understanding of the British War Economy and the pooling of British and American Merchant Shipping. To the best of the writer's knowledge, however, no other published account of the March 1943 shipping crisis exists, and studies of World War II strategy hardly mention it.

[2] Winston S. Churchill, Their Finest Hour (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1949), pp.  7-8.

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for two and a half years more or less, held the line in Europe and the Middle East while the United States mobilized, deployed, and staved off disaster in the Pacific. Not until 1943 was the United States able to wage offensive war on a large scale.

The two countries collaborated most closely in the joint use of Merchant Shipping, a sphere in which they very nearly achieved a full-fledged pooling of resources. Throughout 1942, however, this collaboration was more of a burden than a help to Britain. Although the amount of American Merchant Shipping in British service almost doubled, British warships were diverted to help protect the sea lanes in the western Atlantic, with consequent thinning of protection elsewhere, and Britain also contributed heavily to American shipping services, particularly in troop ships. British shipping losses in 1942 fell just short of 6 million deadweight tons (an increase of a third over those in the year preceding, when Britain had been fighting the war at sea alone); American losses were less than 2.5 million tons. American shipyards, moreover, were able in this year to offset U.S. losses to the extent of almost 4 million tons, while Britain, with only a meager building capacity, showed a net loss of more than 2 million tons. By the end of March 1943 Britain's dry cargo shipping tonnage had fallen to 18.5 million deadweight tons, almost 3 million tons less than its total on the eve of Pearl Harbor. [3]

The drain on British Merchant Shipping during 1942, which Britain's new ally was not yet able to make good, posed a serious and growing threat to the British War Economy. The heart of that economy lay in the industries and people of the United Kingdom, which depended for their very existence on an uninterrupted flow of imports. These had already declined from a prewar average of more than 50 million deadweight tons to 42 million in 1940 and 31 million in 1941. In 1942, despite desperate efforts to arrest the decline and increased assistance from the United States, they fell to 23 million. Even with drastic curtailment of domestic consumption and services and increased local production of food and munitions, this was far less than was needed to meet current requirements. Britain had to eat into its stocks,


[3] (1) Behrens, Merchant Shipping, pp. 69, 293. (2) War Shipping Administration, Shipping Summary, Vol. II, No. 6, June 1945. (3) Hancock and Gowing, British War Economy, pp. 412-14, 416-17.



Deadweight tonnage represents the total carrying capacity of a ship, including ship's gear, supplies, and personnel, expressed in long tons (2,240 pounds). Figures on ship losses in this paragraph are extrapolated from gross tonnage figures given in (1) by applying a factor of 1.5. (Gross tonnage is a measure of a ship's entire enclosed space expressed in units of 100 cubic feet.) Deadweight tonnage figures in (2), the officially accepted U.S. source for World War II shipping losses, are not broken down to show separate categories for American- and British-controlled shipping. Tanker losses, reported separately, are not used in the present study. 

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which by the end of the year had fallen an estimated 2.5 million tons to a level dangerously near what the War Cabinet had decided must be regarded as irreducible. [4]

By late summer U.S. as well as British officials were growing uneasy over the trend. Lewis Douglas, deputy administrator for the War Shipping Administration (WSA), visited London in July and he and Averell Harriman, the President's lend-lease representative there, submitted a special report to the President on 2 August, supplementing a more comprehensive one by the two Combined Shipping Adjustment Boards (CSAB) (Washington and London) and warning that substantially greater aid in American shipping would be needed if Britain were to continue its war effort on the current scale. On 6 October the United States, through the CSAB, formally accepted the principle that, as merchant shipbuilder for the United Nations, it would undertake to assign an "appropriate portion" of the residue of tonnage built over tonnage lost in order "to relieve the burden on the war services of each of the other United Nations." Before the end of that month the President decided to expand the merchant shipbuilding program, hitherto held back because of a shortage of steel, to the full capacity of the shipyards. However, the British Government, while reasonably confident that Britain would be the chief foreign beneficiary of this expansion, felt that the clear drift of the national economy toward disaster called for more specific assurance and concrete action. It decided to seek from its ally "a solemn compact, almost a treaty" setting forth the amount of shipping Britain could expect. [5]

In November Sir Oliver Lyttelton, British Minister of Production, came to Washington to negotiate such a settlement, not merely for shipping but for the whole field of munitions as well. Depletion of domestic stocks, he pointed out, had gone so far that imports had little or no margin left for fluctuation; henceforth, the flow must keep pace with consumption. Lyttelton requested the United States to guarantee enough shipping in 1943 to enable Britain to bring her dry cargo imports up to 27 million tons, a figure that would retard, though it would not halt, the depletion of stocks while providing raw materials for an expanded output of munitions. To produce these results would, the British estimated, require the transfer to British service of ship-


[4] (1) Behrens, Merchant Shipping, pp. 264, 291. (2) Hancock and Gowing, British War Economy, pp. 423-26. U.S. shipping did not directly service the U.K. import program in 1942, but its indirect contribution to that program, by releasing British shipping from other routes, was equivalent to between five and six million tons of imports.

[5] (1) Hancock and Gowing, British War Economy, pp. 423-26. (2) Behrens, Merchant Shipping, pp. 316-18. (3) Correspondence in WSA Douglas File, folders, Hopkins, Shipping Correspondence, British Merchant Shipping Mission Misc, U.K. Imports. 

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ping equivalent to 2.5 million deadweight tons in continuous employment throughout the year-an amount considered sufficient to bring in about 7 million tons of imports via the North Atlantic route. [6]

The President's response was prompt and sympathetic. He wrote to Rear Adm. Emory S. Land of the U.S. Maritime Commission:

In all probability the British are going to lose again in 1943 more ships than they can build. If we are going to keep England in the war at anything like this maximum capacity, we must consider the supplementing of their merchant fleet as one of the top military necessities of the war. [7]

Roosevelt's principal civilian advisers concurred; the military, evidently, were not consulted. Replying formally to the Prime Minister on 30 November, Roosevelt noted that the U.S. shipbuilding program was being augmented to at least 18.8 million deadweight tons in 1943, possibly 20 million. [8] He promised that the United States would make available in 1943 (as a loan rather than by transfer of flag, as requested), sufficient shipping to meet Britain's marginal needs for carriage of 27 million tons of imports, along with requirements for military supply and essential war services. Over and above U.S. shipping already in British service, the amount needed had been estimated, the President noted, as "an average of nearly 300,000 tons each month of carrying capacity." [9]

[6] (1) Behrens, Merchant Shipping, p. 318. (2) Hancock and Gowing, British War Economy, pp. 421, 428-29.

[7] Memo, FDR for Land, 30 Nov 42, MS Index to Hopkins Papers, Book VII, Shipping, p. 4, Item 3(f), filed in OCMH.

[8] Actual construction in 1943 totaled 19.2 million tons. Gerald J. Fischer, A Statistical Summary of Shipbuilding Under the U.S. Maritime Commission During World War II (Washington, 1949), Table B-1, p. 39.

[9] Ltr, President to Churchill, 30 Nov 42, ABC 400 (11-9-42). Where the President got the figure can only be conjectured. This much carrying capacity put into the U.K. import service each month and left continuously in service would bring in some 9.36 million tons of imports by the end of the year (assuming each ship made 4.8 round voyages per year), rather than the 7 million the British had asked for. On the other hand. if by "carrying capacity" the President, who was notoriously impatient of technical distinctions, really meant "shipping," then his "nearly 300,000 tons" might be a round figure for the 281,000 tons of additional shipping that would be needed each month (assuming carrying capacity to be 80 percent of a ship's deadweight tonnage) to carry 7 million tons of imports. Ten days before, the President's shipping advisers had advised him to turn over to the British "thirty percent of the excess of U.S. dry cargo construction over U.S. ship losses.... in amounts each month as nearly equal as present forward commitments permit." This, too, figures out at about 300,000 tons per month. Memo, Land, Douglas, and Harriman for President, 20 Nov 42. See also paper, Allocations Needed To Maintain British Services, 19 Nov 42, and related correspondence, WSA Douglas File, folder Allocs Gen. The original British request for 2.5 million tons of shipping in service throughout the year, if the 80 percent factor is used for arriving at carrying capacity, would add up to 9.6 million tons of imports. It would seem therefore that the British figured on carrying capacity of only 60 percent of ship's deadweight tonnage. If, however, the 60 percent factor is applied to a monthly increment of 300,000 tons of shipping, the total is only 5.6 million tons of imports. 

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The President's letter contained important qualifications. No schedule was set up for turning over the shipping, and the President warned that transfers would lag during the next three months because of current commitments in the Mediterranean. He hoped, too, that with the expected opening of the Mediterranean passage in 1943, the shorter turnaround would enable the British to reduce requirements. He emphasized the need for strict economy on both sides and reserved the right in an emergency to divert shipping temporarily from the U.K. import service. On the other hand, the President set no ceiling to the amount of shipping that might be made available, he acknowledged the British estimate of import requirements as "substantially correct," and he assured Churchill that U.S. shipping would not be diverted from the import program without his personal approval. Subsequently, U.S. shipping officials, in working out detailed arrangements, restated reservations already laid down in the agreement of 6 October 1942 and elsewhere-especially the proviso that any tonnage allotted to the British must come out of the excess, if any, of new construction over losses, and would be limited to demonstrated need. [10]

The President's warning of a probable lag in early deliveries was immediately borne out. Shipments in American bottoms during December were hardly more than token in character, and the schedules drawn up by WSA provided for delivery of only 1.8 million tons of imports, soon revised downward to 1.15 million tons, in the first half of 1943. Britain's own shipping position, meanwhile, was deteriorating rapidly. Military demands upon shipping for the forces in North Africa proved far larger than expected, and British shipping suffered heavily-far more so than American-from German submarines during the period of the North African operation. Apart from losses, evasive routing in areas where escorting had to be curtailed or dispensed with lengthened already long voyages and thus in effect reduced the net movement of cargo. During the same period, moreover, Britain was lending her ally ships to move U.S. cargo from the United Kingdom to North Africa-some 682,000 deadweight tons of shipping between October 1942 and mid-April 1943, or more than twice as much as the United States lent to Britain for use on this route. (See Map III, inside back cover.) The impact upon the U.K. import program was devastating. During the last quarter of 1942 imports came in at an annual rate of only about 20 million tons, which was at least 6

[10] (1) Ltr, President to Churchill, 30 Nov 42, cited n. 9. (2) Memos, Douglas for Salter, 13 and 21 Dec 42, WSA Douglas File, Reading File. (3) Other papers in WSA Douglas File, folders, Salter Memos and U.K. Imports. 

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million tons less than the total consumption for that year. In January 1943 imports fell to the lowest point, as it proved, of the whole war-less than half the level of January 1941, nearly 42 percent less than in January 1942-and by February the British had to revise downward their estimate of the amount of imports they could expect to carry in their own shipping. Fearing new military demands and uneasy over the lag in American aid, the British Government began to doubt the wisdom of allowing domestic stocks to drop as far below their end-1941 level as it had earlier been willing, in expectation of American aid, to permit. Food stocks had fallen by the end of 1942 to a level that would support wartime consumption for only three or four months, and for certain important items the level was even lower. [11]

In January 1943 the Prime Minister took the drastic step of switching to the Atlantic area import routes 52 of the 92 monthly sailings usually assigned to service the Indian Ocean, in order, as he put it, not to

make Britain "live from hand to mouth, absolutely dependent on the

fulfillment of American promises in the last six months of the year." This was a bold, even a desperate move. [12] The ships that carried military cargo for British forces all along the route to India also carried food and other basic economic necessities for the civilian populations, while in their cross voyages they contributed to the complex inter-regional trade on which these countries also depended. The removal of so much tonnage endangered the delicate balance between subsistence and famine in the whole Indian Ocean area, particularly in India itself, and in fact contributed to the outbreak of famine in Bengal later in the year. On their return trips, moreover, the same ships performed other vital services-carrying coal, for example, from South Africa to the Argentine, and picking up bauxite cargoes in British Guiana. [13] (See Map I, inside back cover.) British officials emphasized that the switch of shipping was aimed at retarding depletion of domestic stocks, not building them up, and that it would not justify a reduction in American aid. While they expected the switch to produce a net gain of about 1.7 million tons of imports during 1943, there would still be a requirement for 7.6 million tons to be carried in American bottoms. The U.S. economic mission in London not only agreed with this position but also urged that the American shipping contribution during the first six months of 1943 should be raised to a level sufficient to bring in three million tons of imports, in order to keep within

[11] Behrens, Merchant Shipping, pp. 315-16.

[12] Ltr, Prime Minister to Gen Ismay, 5 Jan 43, quoted in Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1950), p. 926. 

[13] Behrens, Merchant Shipping, pp. 319-22, 340-53.

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supportable limits the burden upon U.K. ports and railroads during the second half of the year. [14]

Casablanca and the Six-Million-Ton Misunderstanding

In the midst of these negotiations the political and military leaders of the two countries met at Casablanca for the third of their great wartime conferences. The conference was held late in January 1943 in an atmosphere of moderate optimism. Allied armies in North Africa were preparing for a final drive to clear Tunisia, U.S. forces in the Pacific were reorganizing after successful operations in the southern Solomons and New Guinea and preparing to eject the Japanese from the Aleutians, and German armies were in full retreat along the whole Eastern Front. Even the Atlantic battle, although losses of dry cargo shipping had soared above a million deadweight tons in November 1942, seemed at the moment to be turning in favor of the Allies. [15] The principal concrete agreement reached at the conference was the decision to invade Sicily (HUSKY) as soon as possible after the conclusion of the campaign in Tunisia. But for the undertaking closest to the hearts of the Americans, an invasion of northwestern Europe across the English Channel, the prospects were uncertain, and, as far as carrying out such an operation in 1943 was concerned, seemed extremely remote. The Germans already had more forces in western Europe than the Allies could hope to bring to bear against them. Even if a bridgehead could be seized, it would probably be hemmed in during the winter, as General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the British Imperial General Staff, put it, "with wire and concrete," and excellent east-west communications would enable the Germans to build up forces more rapidly than the Allies. [16]

If a cross-Channel invasion in 1943 had become impracticable, the Americans were intent on laying the foundation for launching it in spring of 1944. Whether an invasion force of sufficient size could be amassed in the British Isles seemed in large measure to be a question of how much cargo shipping could be made available to move U.S. equipment and supplies across the North Atlantic. The Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) accordingly asked Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, head of the U.S. Army Services of Supply and the only U.S. representative present who could claim any familiarity with the ship-

[14] (1) Correspondence and papers in WSA Douglas File, folders, U.K. Imports and Allocs Gen. (2) Hancock and Gowing, British War Economy, pp. 429-30.

[15] WSA Shipping Summary, Vol. II, No. 6, June 1945.

[16] See Leighton and Coakley, Global Logistics, 1940-1943, pp. 673-75.

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ping situation, to draw up a schedule showing how many U.S. troops could be deployed to Britain and supported there during the remainder of 1943. In this task he had the assistance of Lord Frederick Leathers, the British Minister of War Transport, who was of course fully informed on all matters relating to British shipping, an important element in the question under consideration.

Unfortunately, the officials of the U.S. War Shipping Administration, who alone could have spoken with authority on the American side of the picture, were not present, and Somervell, it developed, was not fully abreast of recent developments in the negotiations between British and U.S. shipping officials on the question of American aid. The British import program, as such, received only perfunctory attention at Casablanca and it appeared in the final decisions of the conference only in the form of a reaffirmation of the already accepted principle that maintenance of Britain's war economy would be a first charge on Allied resources and effort. The Joint Chiefs themselves had not learned of the President's commitment to make U.S. shipping available to bolster the British economy until late in December, when a copy of Roosevelt's letter to Churchill of 30 November was shown to them "very unofficially and confidentially" by the British representatives in Washington. [17] Presumably this tardy intelligence was passed on to General Somervell, but at Casablanca he displayed a degree of confusion over the precise terms of the President's letter and of the program set up to implement it that Lord Leathers must have found puzzling. [18]

Somervell apparently had two misconceptions concerning the President's commitment. First, he seemed to regard it as aimed at replacing Britain's net shipping losses-a principle considered and rejected two months earlier-rather than at meeting Britain's marginal needs. The difference could mean much or little, depending on the actual course of ship losses in 1943, but Somervell hoped that ship losses would decline sufficiently in 1943 to reduce the total demand substantially. Somervell's second, and more serious, misconception lay in his interpretation of the ambiguous phrase "nearly 300,000 tons each month." He apparently regarded this, in the first place, as an implied ceiling on the amount to be turned over, and, in the second place, as a single-voyage rather than a cumulative allocation of shipping. Under this interpretation, and with only eleven months remain-

[17] Memo, Deane for Marshall, King, and Arnold, 26 Dec 42, CCS 400 (11-30-42).

[18] Behrens, Merchant Shipping, page 319, asserts that WSA officials also were unaware of the President's commitment for more than a month after it was made, but WSA records show conclusively that that agency was actively involved in both the preliminary discussions and the development of implementing arrangements immediately following.

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ing in the year, 300,000 tons of carrying capacity each month would bring in only about 2.5 million tons of imports at most, not 7 million. [19]

Somervell's tentative schedule for U.S. overseas deployment in 1943, after allowing for substantial movements to the Mediterranean and other theaters, envisaged something more than a million U.S. troops to be assembled in Britain by the end of the year, out of a total of almost 2.4 million expected to be overseas. [20] This estimate represented the maximum capacity of cargo shipping to support troops overseas during the first half of 1943, and of troop shipping to move them during the second half, when cargo shipping was expected to become more abundant. These assumptions, however, rested upon Somervell's misinterpretation of the shipping commitment to Britain. Beyond this, Somervell expected the British themselves to contribute substantial amounts of shipping for the American build-up in the United Kingdom-a personnel lift of 345,000 mainly during the spring and summer, and 1.6 million measurement tons (about 1.34 million dead-weight tons) of cargo shipping, mainly late in the year. The British offer of troop shipping was in fact conditional upon the availability of sufficient escorts to convoy it, which, in view of the probable needs for the impending attack on Sicily, seemed a risky assumption. [21]

Somervell did indeed elicit from Lord Leathers a tentative undertaking to lend the tonnage stated for cargo shipping, but the undertaking was heavily qualified to protect both Britain's import program and her major operational needs. It was, in fact, conditional upon Britain's having a surplus of shipping available for the purpose-a wholly unreal condition, as Leathers subsequently pointed out, since, according to the President's 30 November letter, Britain was to receive only enough U.S. shipping to fill marginal needs that could not be met with shipping already in British service. There could, therefore, be no surplus to give back to the Americans. In any case, the figure of 1.6 million measurement tons was a rapid estimate "subject to

[19] (1) CCS 172, Note by Somervell, 22 Jan 43, Shipping Capabilities for BOLERO Build-up. (2) Msg, Salter to Douglas, 25 Feb 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Allocs Gen. How much aid Somervell was actually figuring on is not clear. His chief of transportation, General Gross, on separate occasions later mentioned 3 million and 2.4 million tons of imports. See Memo, Gross for Marshall, 17 Mar 43, and handwritten note on Msg, Douglas to Harriman, 9 Mar 43, both in Hq ASF, folder Shipping 1941-43.

[20] By the end of 1943 Army forces overseas numbered about 2.6 million, but only 768,000 were in the European theater. Statistical Review, World War II (Army Service Forces, no date), p. 198.

[21] CCS 172, 22 Jan 43, cited n. 19. Actually, lack of escorts caused the virtual suspension of U.S. troop movements to the United Kingdom during the spring and early summer, but by the end of the year the British were able to meet almost their entire commitment of troop shipping, largely by using fast liners such as the two Queens, which could sail unescorted. 

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check." Somervell, Leathers later asserted, "fully understood this and repeatedly acknowledged his understanding." As Sir Arthur Salter Leathers' representative in Washington, summed up the matter:

Lord Leathers gave an overoptimistic estimate (safeguarded because slated to be checked) on an unreal assumption given by General Somervell. It was in any case a provisional estimate (even on that unreal basis) and not a commitment, and it was all on the repeatedly stated, and acknowledged, basis that it was only an estimate of what, on a given assumption, might be available after British import requirements had been met.

Even with the addition of the considerable number of British forces already in the United Kingdom and yet to be organized, Somervell's projected build-up of American forces in 1943 would provide hardly more than a fair beginning toward an invasion army capable of overcoming Germany's defenses in the West. Allowing for a large contingent of air force personnel for the planned strategic bombing offensive against Germany, and for service troops to build and operate the base of operations in Britain, the one-million-odd U.S. troops that Somervell thought could be amassed there by the end of 1943 would contain a ground army of only seven or eight divisions. A larger build-up could only be achieved by diverting shipping from other theaters, with consequent diminution of strength, loss of momentum, and, probably, sacrifice of the initiative so painfully won during the latter part of 1942-consequences the Americans were unwilling to risk in the Pacific and the Far East, and the British were unwilling to risk in the Mediterranean. Despite publicly proclaimed hopes of defeating Germany in 1943, the Allied leaders no longer seriously anticipated that a decisive blow could be struck in western Europe until 1944. Accepting Somervell's deployment schedule as a basis for detailed planning, the CCS clung to the hope that by the following spring sufficient forces would be on hand in the United Kingdom for a major cross-Channel effort.

The hope, and the deployment expectations on which it rested depended on assumptions on both sides that, as we have seen, were far apart. The British counted on enough U.S. shipping to carry more than 7 million tons of their domestic imports in 1943; they were about to ask, in fact, for enough to carry some 7.6 million tons, and, if the need could be established, could reasonably expect under the terms of the President's pledge of 30 November that the request would be granted On the American side, the military leaders were making plans based on the assumption that British demands on U.S. shipping would come to less than a third of this amount and that, out of the ship-

[22] Memo, Salter for Douglas, 25 Feb 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Allocs Gen.

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ping lent, the British would turn back a substantial part to carry military cargoes for the U.S. forces in Britain. Between the two sets of expectations stretched a gap roughly equivalent to more than 6 million tons of carrying capacity over the coming year-more than a fourth of the entire tonnage of cargo that was in fact to be shipped to all U.S. Army forces overseas in 1943. The unrecorded discussions at Casablanca must repeatedly have come within a hairsbreadth of revealing to both sides how far apart their fundamental assumptions were. There must have been many moments when Somervell or Leathers dimly and uneasily sensed that the other's premises were different from his own. Frequently, Leathers later reported, he told Somervell "that he preferred that British aid [to the American build-up in Britain], because of uncertainties, should not be counted in Somervell's study. ... [23] Nevertheless, the conference came to an end with the misunderstanding still unrevealed. The revelation, when it came, was to be explosive.

The Shipping Crisis of March 1943

For almost seven weeks after Casablanca the misunderstanding persisted. Somervell left for a tour of North Africa, the Middle East, and India, while WSA and British officials in Washington continued their negotiations over the scale of American assistance.

Meanwhile, the military outlook was deteriorating. In the South Pacific the Americans moved another step up the Solomons ladder without opposition into the Russell Islands, but prospects for a rapid concerted drive on Rabaul, key Japanese bastion barring the road back to the Philippines, faded as the staffs in Washington belatedly faced up to the requirements, largely glossed over at Casablanca, that such an effort would demand. Late in March, after a wrangle between the Washington planners and theater representatives, the Joint Chiefs finally bowed to the necessity of deferring the reduction of Rabaul until some time in 1944. In Burma, a British drive south along the Arakan coast toward Akyab, just over the border from India, bogged down, and it became increasingly clear that the British commanders there had no stomach for the larger operations to which this was to have been a prelude. Prospects for aggressive action in the China-Burma-India theater were further clouded by the bitter dispute between Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell and Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault over the latter's insistence upon a dominant role for U.S. air forces in China, which would require most or all of the limited amount

[23] Msg. Harriman to Douglas, 23 Feb 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Allocs Gen.

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of supplies that could be flown over the Hump, at the expense of Stilwell's program for equipping and reorganizing the Chinese armies and constructing a land route into China. In Europe it was clear by March that the expectations of immediately resuming the build-up of U.S. forces in Britain while pressing the North African campaign to a successful conclusion had been visionary. Troop and cargo movements across the North Atlantic dwindled almost to the vanishing point as shipping and escorts were diverted to move reinforcements and materiel to the Mediterranean. And in mid-February the Allies suffered a crushing setback in North Africa when Field Marshal Erwin Rommel launched a powerful counteroffensive in western Tunisia that broke through thinly deployed U.S. armor and for a time threatened to sever the Allied supply line from Algeria and Morocco. As Allied military fortunes stagnated or declined, the war at sea took a sudden turn for the worse. In February the U-boats, having refitted and reorganized, struck with deadly effect in the North Atlantic, concentrating on the several-hundred-mile gap in mid-ocean that lay beyond the range of air cover from existing bases. Ship losses in March soared to a level only slightly lower than their peak in November, and the Casablanca deployment expectations went up in smoke. It was at this juncture that the whole issue of shipping aid to Britain came unexpectedly to a head. [24]

On 19 February Lewis Douglas had a talk with Somervell, just returned from his trip abroad. Somervell wanted to set up a special convoy of twenty-five ships to carry equipment and supplies to hasten the rearming of French forces in North Africa. Douglas was dubious. If the demand were met in full, he said, ships would probably have to be taken from the British import program, and this, under the arrangements Somervell no doubt knew of, could only be done with the President's consent. Somervell looked blank, asked "What arrangement?" and, when reminded of the President's letter of 30 November, replied that this had now been superseded by his agreement at Casablanca with Lord Leathers. He showed Douglas a copy of CCS 172, his Casablanca deployment paper, containing the heavily qualified British offer to contribute 1.6 million measurement tons of cargo shipping to the U.S. build-up in the United Kingdom. Douglas discreetly

[24] (1) Winston S. Churchill, Closing the Ring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company 1951), pp. 7-16, 673. (2) Arthur Bryant, The Turn of the Tide (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1957), pp. 489-91. (3) Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. II, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1947), Ch. XIV and App. I. (4) Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Gate (eds.), The Army Air Forces in World War II, Vol II, Europe-TORCH to POINTBLANK-August 1942 to December 1943 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1949), pp. 384-95. (5) Behrens, Merchant Shipping, pp. 293, 367. (6) Leighton and Coakley, Global Logistics, 1940-1943, App. H. 

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refrained from argument, promised to do what he could to find ships for the special convoy, and, after some desultory talk about Somervell's trip, hurried back to his office. [25]

Within a few days, after a quick check with Sir Arthur Salter in Washington and an exchange of cables with Harriman in London, Douglas had the British version of the Casablanca bargain. Meanwhile, faced by an alarming lag in the flow of British imports, WSA officials were drawing up new schedules greatly increasing the amount of U.S. shipping to be diverted to British use during the critical first half of the year. [26]

Yet almost two more weeks passed before Somervell realized what had happened. Douglas had told him enough on the 19th to indicate the actual scope of the American commitment to maintain British imports, and may have assumed that Somervell now understood the situation. As for the special convoy, most of the vessels needed were actually in sight, and Douglas was anxious to avoid asking the President to invoke the escape clause of the 30 November pledge in order to divert the remainder from the British import program. While this matter was still pending, Somervell's transportation chief, Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross, notified Douglas on the 27th that the Army would appreciate WSA assistance in putting pressure on the British to make good their "commitments" of shipping for the U.S. build-up in the United Kingdom Douglas replied that the latest messages from Harriman in London offered little hope on this score in the light of the deterioration of the British import program. Still later, Douglas (according to his own account) again explained the British position to Somervell, and Somervell, on 9 March, approved a cable Douglas sent to Harriman noting his (Somervell's) understanding of that position. But what neither Gross nor even Somervell (despite the latter's discussions with Douglas on 19 February and subsequently) understood up to this point, apparently, was the full extent of the gap, in terms of actual tonnages, between the amount of shipping they, and the amount that the British, expected would have to be lent to meet Britain's full import requirements. Precisely what made the light suddenly dawn is not clear, but on 10 March Gross scribbled a startled notation to Somervell:

Lord Leathers made his promise to you with U.S. help to the extent of lifting 7,000,000 tons in mind. You accepted it with that help reduced to

[25] Douglas Notes on Conference With Somervell, 19 Feb 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Army Reqmts.

[26] (1) Douglas Notes on Conference With Salter, 19 Feb 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Army Reqmts. (2) Msg, Harriman to Douglas, 23 Feb 43, and (3) Memo, Salter for Douglas, 25 Feb 43, both in WSA Douglas File, folder Allocs Gen. 

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30 sailings a month in mind, or about 2,400,000 tons lift. The whole matter of U.S. help in the U.K. import program must come out in open for decision by CCS. [27]

The British, meanwhile, were getting worried. Late in February Eisenhower sent in a request for still another special convoy to sail in April. This made unavoidable a decision on the import program at a time when other decisions on combined allocations for shipping were pressing for attention-for the Burma and Sicily build-up movements, which must shortly begin, for Soviet aid, and for reviving the flagging build-up in the United Kingdom. Finally, there was a growing feeling in London that a new and definitive division of shipping resources between the two countries was imperative. Early in March Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden was sent to Washington to take up the problem directly with the President. He brought with him a strongly worded note from the Prime Minister:

Our tonnage constantly dwindles, the American increases.... We have undertaken arduous and essential operations encouraged by the belief that we could rely on American shipbuilding to see us through. But we must know where we stand. We cannot live from hand to mouth on promises limited by provisos. This not only prevents planning and makes the use of ships less economical; it may in the long run even imperil good relations. Unless we can get a satisfactory long-term settlement, British ships will have to be withdrawn from their present military service even though our agreed operations are crippled or prejudiced. [28]

On 12 March Eden arrived in Washington, and on the same day the British representatives brought before the Combined Chiefs of Staff their estimated shipping requirements for carrying out their share of the military operations projected at Casablanca. The point of departure in the British presentation to the CCS was that the import program of 27 million tons for 1943 was above discussion, and no allusion was made to current estimates, then under discussion with WSA, that as many as 9 million of the 27 million tons might have to be carried in American shipping. The paper emphasized that the

[27] (1) Note, dated 10 Mar 43, on Msg, Douglas to Harriman, 9 Mar 43, Hq ASF folder Shipping 1941-43. (2) Douglas' Notes on Telephone Conversation With Hopkins, 19 Feb 43, and (3) Douglas Notes on Conference With Gross, 1 Mar 43, both in WSA Douglas File, folder Army Reqmts. (4) Douglas Notes on Telephone Conversation With Hopkins, 22 Feb 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Hopkins. (5) Memo, Land and Douglas for President, 23 Feb 43; (6) Ltr, Gross to Douglas, 27 Feb 43; and (7) Msg, Douglas to Harriman, no date, all in WSA Douglas File, folder Allocs Gen.

[28] (1) Quotation from Hancock and Gowing, British War Economy, p. 430. (Quoted by permission of the Controller of H.M. Stationery Office.) See also Ltr, Leathers to COS, 1 Mar 43, quoted Ibid., pp. 336-38, and Ch. XVII. (2) Douglas Notes on Conference With Gross, 1 Mar 43, and Telephone Conversation With Somervell, 5 Mar 43 both in WSA Douglas File, folder Army Reqmts. (3) Memo, Salter for Douglas, 3 Mar 43, and (4) Msg, Harriman to Douglas, no date, both in WSA Douglas File, folder Allocs Gen. 

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maintenance of Britain's domestic war economy had always been recognized as a first charge on coalition resources. It warned that the current rate of imports held out little prospect of meeting even a 12-million-ton goal by midyear, which the British considered imperative if the quota for the entire year were to be met. Over and above assistance to the import program and American shipping already serving British programs in the Indian Ocean, Africa, and Australasia, the British set forth the following additional requirements for American shipping:

(a) Fourteen sailings per month to the eastern Mediterranean in April, May, and June for the maintenance of British forces in the Sicily operation during its early stages;

(b) Twenty-five sailings per month in April, May, and June, and nineteen per month in July and August, to the Indian Ocean for the build-up for the Burma offensive;

(c) Assistance on a scale yet to be determined in shipping equipment and supplies to Turkey.

No British cargo shipping could be provided, moreover, for the U.S. build-up in the United Kingdom. [29]

The reaction of the Washington staffs to this demand was violent. Hurried calculations of the implications of the requested transfers produced appalling statistics. Recent deployment estimates had indicated that about 1.4 million U.S. Army troops might be sent overseas in 1943, while certain adjustments in the U.S. Navy's requirements had opened the possibility either of increasing that figure or of raising assistance to the British import program to a level of 5 million tons. If 7 million tons of imports must be carried, the Army's deployment would have to be cut by 225,000 men; a loan of shipping to support British forces in the Mediterranean and India would mean a further cut of 375,000 men. Taken together, the British proposals threatened to reduce a potential U.S. deployment of over 1.5 million troops to about 800,000. Moreover, the cut would be made primarily during the critical spring months, when shipping would be at its tightest and when, according to current plans, the battle of Tunisia was to reach its climax, preparations for HUSKY were to be completed, and the build-up of air forces in Britain was to hit full stride. During these months, if British demands were met in full, the movement of U.S. forces would virtually cease. [30] And what if the aid were refused?

[29] (1) CCS 183/1, 12 Mar 43, title: Review of the Availability of UN Shipping (memo by representatives of COS). (2) CCS 183/3, 18 Mar 43, same title.

[30] (1) Memo, Gross for Marshall, 17 Mar 43, sub: CCS 183/1.... (2) Incl to CCS 183/2, 18 Mar 43, title: Review of Availability of UN Shipping, both in ABC 560 (2-26-43) Sec. 1A. 

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Since the British had already made it clear that they intended to meet their import quota in full, whatever the cost to other programs, the probable consequences of forcing them (assuming they could be forced) to support their share of the planned offensives in the Mediterranean and in Burma wholly from their own resources seemed hardly less catastrophic than would be the impact of the requested aid, if granted, upon U.S. strength overseas. British participation in the Soviet aid shipments to Murmansk would cease immediately and for the duration of the Sicily campaign, and all maintenance shipments for either the British forces in North Africa or those in the Indian Ocean area would have to be suspended until July, and reduced for the remainder of the summer to half the normal scale. This was of course, pure hypothesis, since it was unlikely that the British would accept such deprivation of their forces overseas, and neither the U.S. nor the British Government was likely to permit so heavy a cut in the Soviet aid program. [31]

Caught in a predicament from which they saw no escape, the Joint Chiefs and their staffs fumed helplessly. In CCS conclave the U.S. representatives argued that the irreducible minimum of British imports was not a question to be determined unilaterally by the British, but should be weighed against other demands. Admiral King even went so far as to challenge the premise that maintenance of the British economy at a given level was a first charge on Allied resources, and Somervell thought that U.S. shipping for British imports should be provided only "to the extent that the United States thinks is necessary." Staff estimates pointedly noted that if American shipping assistance to Britain were held at the level currently being supplied, as many as two million U.S. troops might be deployed and supported overseas in 1943. General Gross, according to Douglas, who saw him immediately after the British submitted their proposals, was "very much disturbed and upset," and in a meeting of the Combined Military Transportation Committee three days later his complaints against the British (in the presence of their representatives), for having concealed at Casablanca the extent of their dependence on U.S. shipping, were couched in language so blunt that the committee decided to consider most of the discussion off the record. Gross saw no reason why the British import program should be sacrosanct. "If they were to exert their utmost en-

[31] Incl B to CCS 183/2, 18 Mar 43. As it happened, the convoys to northern Soviet ports were suspended in March and did not run again until late in the year, primarily because of the requirements of escort coverage for the Mediterranean convoys. The suspension was partly compensated for by increased shipments via the Persian Gulf from July on and by shipments to Vladivostok on the north Pacific route in vessels flying the USSR flag.

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deavors," he wrote to Marshall, pointing to the four-million-ton gap between 1942 imports and the 1943 goal, "the call upon us would be equal to ... shipping to lift 3,400,000 tons of imports," not 7 or 8 million. A sacrifice of only 3 million tons of imports, according to staff estimates, would free enough shipping to meet Britain's military needs in full. [32]

General Marshall showed Gross's suggestion to Sir John Dill, the British Army representative on the CCS. The latter remarked, with exquisite tact, that it was "a good straightforward review of this baffling problem" and merely reminded Marshall that the War Cabinet decision on a 27-million-ton import quota for 1943 was his "Bible, and that the program imposed deep cuts on civilian production in Britain in order to build up the production of munitions (with an ultimate saving in shipping space) by some 50 percent. "I am most anxious," Dill concluded, "that all our cards should be put on the table. The shipping problem is terribly serious and time is rushing by. [33]

With U-boats sinking ships at the rate of more than four a day and only a handful of subs sunk to show for this slaughter, the U.S. Chiefs of Staff fully shared Dill's sense of urgency. [34] The Joint Strategic Survey Committee was advising them to review and reorient the t whole strategic program outlined at Casablanca, since it was obvious that the planners at that time had "overestimated prospective resources, particularly shipping, and underestimated the demands on them." [35] A viable strategy, thought the committee, must first of all recognize the irreducible claims of such basic commitments as antisubmarine operations, support of forces overseas, and maintenance of the war economies, and tailor military operations to what could be carried out with residual resources, especially shipping, not absorbed by the basic commitments. But Maj. Gen. Thomas T. Handy, chief of OPD, reflected the prevailing Army view that strenuous efforts must be made to find shipping to carry out the Casablanca military program, if necessary by imposing "severe cuts" on the non-military programs. [36]

[32] (1) Memo, Gross for Marshall, 17 Mar 43, cited n. 30. (2) Douglas Notes on Conference With Gross, 12 Mar 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Army Reqmts. (3) Memo, Keating for Douglas, 30 Mar 43, same file, folder CMTC. (4) OPD Notes on JPS 66th Mtg, 24 Mar 43, ABC 560 (2-26-43) Sec. IA. (5) CCS 183/2. (6) Rpt by JSSC, 23 Mar 43, Review of Availability of UN Shipping, ABC 560 (2-26-43) Sec. 1A. (7) Supplementary Min, 75th Mtg CCS, 12 Mar 43.

[33] Note, Dill to Marshall, 18 Mar 43, Hq ASF, folder Shipping 1941-43.

[34] Morison, Battle of the Atlantic, p. 344; Churchill, Closing the Ring, p. 10.

[35] JSSC 11, 22 Mar 43, title: Survey of Present Situation, ABC 381 (9-25-41) Sec. 4.

[36] Memo, Handy for Marshall, 28 Mar 43, with atchd notes and related papers in Exec 3, Item 1A, Case 55. The position of the JSSC was sustained by the JCS two weeks later in CCS 199, 13 Apr 43, title: Survey of Present Strategic Situation. 

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This was the crux of the matter. In a wrangle over strategic priorities in the CCS, the Americans argued with some heat that the war economy programs should not be allowed to become irreducible fixed charges but, like military requirements, should be subject to adjustment. Strategy must not become the residuary legatee of war economy arbitrarily sustained at a level that, in a deteriorating military situation, might seem relatively luxurious. But it was a losing battle. The British representatives refused to budge from their position that maintenance of the British war economy, at the level fixed by the British Government and approved by the President, was a first charge against Allied resources. The Americans secured only a deviously worded amendment to the effect that "first charge" programs were somehow to be supported "concurrently" with other programs and operations. [37]

At this juncture the problem was taken away from the CCS altogether. Before the Joint Chiefs could get their teeth into the substance of the new British shipping requirements, they were informed the President had appointed a "special board" headed by Harry Hopkins to look into the matter, and there was nothing to do but await a decision. Since, as Admiral Ernest J. King glumly remarked, "shipping [is] at the root of everything," it seemed not unlikely that the new board would "reorientate strategic policy" and "in effect supersede the Combined Chiefs." [38]

As it happened, the Joint Chiefs were granted one more move. Hopkins asked Somervell to draw up a scheme of shipping allocations along the lines that the military thought the situation demanded. Somervell's first plan, completed in three days, offered little aid to the British import program, and that mainly at the expense of the Soviet aid program. This scheme he replaced almost immediately by a second one- probably in response to hints from his superiors that, in view of the recent decision to suspend the Murmansk convoys, the President was not likely to take kindly to suggestions that might further irritate the Kremlin. The second plan raised the quota of sailings to the Persian Gulf after mid-1943 well above earlier estimates of the maximum capacity of the ports in that area, pared down or eliminated various Western Hemisphere services, lopped twenty-three sailings off the British Burma build-up in expectation of savings from the opening of the Mediterranean, and reduced military shipments to Alaska and other quiet areas. The deepest cut was in tonnage allotted to the U.K. import program, leaving only enough to carry about 2.3 million tons dur-

[37] (1) Min, 76th Mtg CCS, 19 Mar 43. (2) OPD Notes on 66th Mtg JCS, 24 Mar 43.

[38] Min, 76th Mtg CCS, 19 Mar 43.

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ing the last three quarters of the year, plus a possible 1.7 million tons to be sandwiched in with Army cargoes to the United Kingdom-making an estimated total, with first-quarter shipments, of 4.8 million tons. The bulk of import shipments would be made in the last quarter of the year. As for military requirements, Somervell's recommended allocations were, he assured the Chief of Staff, the bare minimum needed. To divert shipping to sustain the British war economy "in excess of that required to meet the bare necessities of living" would prolong the war, weaken the will of the Russians to continue fighting, and be "indefensible on any ground." He concluded, "If we are in this war to win [the shipping] must be provided. It is recommended that we press for Presidential approval." [39]

The Joint Chiefs were uncertain how to put their case to the President. Admiral William D. Leahy, who had talked to Hopkins, thought it would be tactless to recommend specific reductions in lend-lease or British import shipments, since this was under WSA jurisdiction, but King and Marshall believed it was the duty of the JCS to advise the President on the whole problem. Their view prevailed. Admiral Leahy accordingly wrote the President on 10 April that "drastic curtailment of civilian commitments as well as reductions in U.S. shipping allocations to the British import program" would be necessary if the Casablanca decisions were to be carried out. He appended Somervell's recommended allocations. [40]

The President Disposes

The Joint Chiefs were almost two weeks too late. Lewis Douglas, who had strong convictions on the subject of aid to Britain, had been quietly working to find a solution that would not force the President to void his original commitment to Churchill. He was worried by the rebellious mood and anti-British feeling he saw developing among the military. In his opinion, the drying up of the British import program, confirmed beyond any doubt by competent American observers

[39] (1) Memo Somervell for CofS, 25 Mar 43, with atchd table, and related papers, in ABC 560 (2-16-43) Sec. 1A. (2) Figures on first-quarter British import shipments in American bottoms proved to be less than half Somervell's estimate. See Hancock and Gowing, British War Economy, pp. 429-30. (3) Persian Gulf shipments in 1943 actually were far less than here estimated. See T. H. Vail Motter, The Persian Corridor and Aid to Russia, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1952), App. A, Table 1.

[40] (1) Memo, Leahy for President, 10 Apr 43, Incl A in JCS 251/2, 10 Apr 43, Allocation of Allied Shipping; (2) Notes on 72d Mtg JCS, 6 Apr 43, and 73d Mtg, 9 Apr 43; and (3) Memo, Secy JCS for JPS, 20 Mar. 43, sub: Allocation of Allied Shipping, all in ABC 560 (2-26-43) Sec. 1A. 

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in England, menaced the entire Allied war effort. He was determined, as he wrote Harriman, to do what he could "to prevent our military from successfully pressing home their claims.... They do not seem to realize ... that the U.K. import program is as important to the military success of our armies as is, for example, the bauxite movement to- the United States." He also suspected that the vehement opposition of the military to further loans of shipping to bolster British imports portended a new challenge to civilian control over allocation of U.S. shipping. His representative on the Combined Military Transportation Committee had reported to him, on 15 March, an imprudent remark by General Gross that WSA should have consulted the Joint Chiefs before complying with the President's instructions on shipping allocations. Douglas promptly passed the remark on to Hopkins. [41]

It may have been Douglas' warning that a concerted attack by the military upon the British import program was in the making that led Hopkins on the 19th to take personal charge of the negotiations. Hopkins consulted various individuals-Douglas, Somervell, Sir Arthur Salter, and others-but Douglas, standing at the very center of the shipping picture and enjoying close personal relations with Hopkins, held the key. During the last week of March he evidently succeeded in convincing Hopkins, first, that "the President had already made a commitment and that we had to look at the matter in that light," and, second, that since the military were unlikely to concede this as a point of departure, nothing would be gained by drawing them into the negotiations. Meanwhile, the President was being pressed by Anthony Eden not merely to meet the original commitment of aid to the British import program, but to expand it. [42]

On 29 March Hopkins, Douglas, and Eden met with the President at the White House. No military representatives were present and Douglas, with occasional promptings from Hopkins, held the floor. He presented two main arguments-that the British import program must be sustained, and that this, despite the warnings of the military chiefs, could in fact be done without crippling the Casablanca strategic program. Douglas explained that the current rate of importation would bring only 16 million tons to the United Kingdom by the end of the year, and that even if U.S. commitments were met in full, the

[41] (1) Ltr, Douglas to Harriman, 27 Mar 43, WSA Douglas File, Reading File. (2) Memo by Douglas, 19 Mar 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Control of Transportation. (3) Douglas Notes on Lunch Conference With Hopkins, 19 Mar 43, WSA Douglas File folder Hopkins. (4) Memo, Keating for Douglas, 30 Mar 43, WSA Douglas File, folder CMTC.

[42] (1) Douglas Notes on Lunch Conference With Hopkins, 19 Mar 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Hopkins. (2) Memo, Clay to Styer, 20 Mar 43, sub: Conference With Hopkins, Hq ASF, folder Shipping 1941-43. 

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decline in British carrying capacity would result in a year's total almost 2 million tons less than the 27 million tons on which the two governments had agreed in November. The program, he argued, was an "essential part of the productive processes" of the United Nations, and any serious shortfall "would at last come back to us" in the form of a weakening of the total Allied war effort. Further, Douglas stressed the dangers, inherent in the Army's proposed allocations, of accumulating a deficit in the spring and summer that might be too heavy to handle in the autumn and winter. [43]

Speaking to his second point, Douglas remarked that the Navy had not even submitted its requirements beyond the second quarter, and that the Army had never allowed WSA to see the "inner guts" of its cargo shipping requirements. In practice, Douglas bluntly charged, the military services' stated requirements had always turned out to be inflated. He thought they probably were inflated now. Beyond midyear, he was certain, both military and nonmilitary programs could be carried out, if shipping were carefully budgeted. The problem was really localized in the second quarter-April, especially, was "very, very tight." Douglas believed, nevertheless, that if military needs were discounted somewhat, particularly in their regular maintenance services, it would be possible not merely to accelerate the British import program but also to carry forward all the planned military operations and programs, including requested operational aid to the British except for the build-up for operations in Burma. The latter, he said, hinged largely on the opening of the Mediterranean and, in any case, would probably have to be deferred until early 1944. [44]

The President apparently needed little convincing. Before Douglas had got well into his discussion of the military programs, he abruptly announced, "Well, we can consider the import program settled." Turning to Eden, he added, "You can tell the Prime Minister it's a settled matter and we will ... make good our commitments." Neither Douglas nor Eden (who had said virtually nothing during the meeting) pressed the demand for an explicit enlargement of the U.S. commitment beyond 7 million tons of imports. [45]

It remained, as the President remarked at the end of the meeting, "to settle it with the military." The immediate problem was to determine whether the first installment of shipments for the Burma

[43] Douglas Notes on White House Conference, 29 Mar 43, WSA Douglas File, folder Allocs Gen.

[44] Ibid.

[45] (1) Ibid. (2) Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), pp. 716-17. (3) Ltr; Douglas to Harriman, 30 Mar 43, WSA Douglas File, Reading File. 

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build-up could be met. Paradoxically, the U.S. military leaders now; stood almost alone in insisting that the Burma offensive, planned for late in the year, be carried out. The British, who had the main responsibility, were by now wholly disenchanted with the project, and the President, more and more intrigued by the idea of relying on air power in this theater instead of the slow and costly build-up of ground forces, went so far as to attempt to persuade his military advisers to abandon the plan and to use the shipping for the U.S. build-up in Britain. Marshall and King stood their ground, arguing that it was imperative to maintain heavy pressure on the Japanese in southeast Asia, and the President was unwilling to overrule them. Douglas' own analysis of the shipping problem had tended to support the view that it was usually possible to scrape together a few more ships by skimping here and there. Presently, therefore, Douglas received instructions from Hopkins to try to meet at least the April quota for the Burma build-up, now reduced to about twenty sailings. Douglas doubted the wisdom of committing large amounts of U.S. shipping to the other side of the world where it would be beyond immediate recall to the Atlantic, at least until the outcome of impending Mediterranean operations could be foreseen. On the other hand, he could see the value of sweetening somewhat the bitter pill the President had forced his military advisers to swallow in the matter of British imports. Before the end of April, therefore, the twenty sailings for India were squeezed from various civilian and military maintenance services, the British themselves contriving to contribute a few. The first installments on aid to the British build-up for the Sicily operation were also met. [46]

Reactions of the Joint Chiefs to the President's decision are not recorded, but Somervell and Gross, at least, did not disguise their chagrin. Douglas, conferring with them on final arrangements for the April shipments, found both in a disgruntled mood, Somervell grumbling that the British "were getting off very light," Gross still insisting that Britain could manage very well in 1943 with only 16 million tons of imports. A few days later Somervell went so far as to complain to the President that allocations made by WSA, contrary to Douglas' claims, would not provide the shipping needed for U.S. military operations. [47] And in May, in drawing up the Army's 1943 shipping budget for the Washington Conference (TRIDENT), Somervell pointedly tabulated the requirements in such a manner that allocations for British imports were

[46] Correspondence in WSA Douglas File, folders, Allocs Gen and Army Reqmts.

[47] (1) Douglas Notes on Conference With Adm Smith and Gens Somervell, Gross, and Wylie, 7 Apr 43, and (2) Memo, Douglas for Hopkins, 13 Apr 43, both in WSA Douglas File, folder Army Reqmts. (3) Draft Memo, for signature of President, Somervell for Hopkins, 12 Apr 43, Hq ASF, Reading File [under "H"].

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shown as reduced by amounts necessary to meet all other requirements in full. [48]

Nevertheless, the President held to his course. Swollen by American aid, the British import program rapidly revived during the spring. From a low point of 4.5 million tons in the first quarter, imports reached 7.2 million tons in the second, making a total only 300,000 tons short of the 12 million tons that had seemed so unattainable in March. At TRIDENT the final U.S. shipping budget included not merely t he full stated requirements of the import program, but also only slightly reduced allocations of shipping to support British forces in the Mediterranean and India. [49] Later in May the President took a further, more far-reaching step. He directed WSA to transfer to Britain, under bare-boat charter for the duration of the war, fifteen to twenty cargo vessels per month over the next ten months. This placed the capstone on the policy, enunciated on 6 October 1942, by which the United States had progressively assumed the role of merchant shipbuilder for the Anglo-American coalition. [50]

The whole massive shift of U.S. shipping into British services, decided upon during a crisis in the war at sea, was admittedly a gamble-one the U.S. military leaders naturally resisted, since their operations stood to lose if the gamble did not pay off. The gamble did pay off, and the dark predictions of the military shipping staffs did hot materialize. That they did not do so was, in some measure, a vindication of Douglas' repeated assertion that stated military requirements for shipping were usually inflated. During the spring shipping crisis of 1943, WSA often failed to meet these requirements as originally stated, but just as often ships sailed on Army account without full cargoes and on numerous occasions the Army reduced its requirements or even turned back ships for lack of ready cargo. What confounded the logistical experts above all, however, was the spectacular turn of the tide in the war at sea. Beginning in April a new and more effective organization of antisubmarine operations, bolstered by long-range bombers covering the mid-ocean gap, began to take effect. Ship losses in that month dipped to less than half those in March, and in June they fell to a point (182,000 deadweight tons) that by compari-

[48] See Richard M. Leighton and Robert W. Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, 1943-1945, a forthcoming volume in UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II, MS, Ch. III.

[49] Ibid. Offensive operations in Burma were by this time only tentatively planned and shipping allocations to support them were postponed until late in 1943 and early in 1944.

[50] (1) Hancock and Gowing, British War Economy, tables on pp. 357 and 431. (2) Behrens, Merchant Shipping, pp. 364-65. (3) Ltr, President to Prime Minister, 28 May 43, MS Index to Hopkins Papers, Book VII, TRIDENT Conf, p. 4, Item 23. (4) Correspondence in WSA Douglas File, folder British Merchant Shipping Mission.

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son with the whole experience since Pearl Harbor seemed trifling. New construction, meanwhile, continued to climb, in May and June making net gains over losses of more than 1.5 million tons a month in all types of merchant shipping. The military shipping staffs continued to shake their heads-the trend could not last. Early in May they still foresaw huge deficits, and as late as July the Combined Military Transportation Committee, analyzing monthly average losses during the first five months of the year, which had fallen well below the agreed planning factors, were suspicious as to the meaning of "the present lull in Axis submarine action." [51]

The civilian shipping experts, for their part, had always been skeptical of predictions of shipping availability beyond six months in the future-approximately the length of the longest turnaround-and on the eve of the TRIDENT Conference Douglas and Salter sounded a general note of caution to the strategic planners:

All estimates of available shipping and requirements ... covering a long period extending into the future are necessarily unprecise and subject to all the changing fortunes of war. Shipping availabilities fluctuate with the progress of submarine warfare, routing, loss of shipping in assault operations, and a variety of additional factors. Military requirements vary in accordance with developments in the theaters of war and modified strategic plans.

For these reasons, Douglas and Salter were not too worried over the huge shipping deficits currently predicted by the military staffs, which, they thought, were "within the margin of error inherent in a forward projection" and "may well prove to be manageable." [52] By the time the Allied leaders met again, at Quebec in August, the shipping deficits had in fact disappeared.

[51] CCS 174/1, 2 Jul 43, title: Loss Rate for 1943 (report by CMTC).

[52] (1) Notes on Statements of Dry Cargo Shipping Position, 10 May 43, signed by Salter and Douglas, Hq ASF, folder Shipping 1941-43. (2) Leighton and Coakley, Global Logistics, 1940-1943, Ch. XXVI.

RICHARD M. LEIGHTON, Faculty, Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Harvard University, University of Cincinnati, Cornell University, Ph.D. Taught: Brooklyn College, University of Cincinnati, The George Washington University. Historical Officer, Headquarters, Army Service Forces, 1943-46. Historian, OCMH, 1948-59. Co-author: Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-1943 (Washington, 1955) and Global Logistics and Strategy, 1943-1945 (in preparation), UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.