The ANVIL Decision

Page 383

Chapter 16

The ANVIL Decision: Crossroads of Strategy

by Maurice Matloff

(See Chapter 15 for information on author.)

On 15 August 1944 Allied forces invaded southern France-the last of a long series of triphibious operations in the Mediterranean. Within a month they swept up the valley of the Rhone and linked up with General George S. Patton's Third Army. The landing took place nine weeks after the launching of the Normandy invasion and after some six months of indecision. To President Roosevelt, General George C. Marshall, and most U.S. strategic planners, the operation was a logical part of the grand design fashioned at the Cairo-Tehran Conference to defeat Germany decisively. To Churchill and most of the British staff, it was an operation at the wrong time and in the wrong place-an undertaking that prevented the completion of the Italian campaign and an advance through the Ljubljana Gap toward Vienna. (See Map 7.)

Behind the landings on the coast of southern France lay one of the most controversial decisions of World War II. No wartime debate between the Americans and the British showed a sharper divergence of opinion; none reflected a greater contrast in national approaches to war strategy. As the rift between the Soviet Union and the West has widened in the postwar period, the controversy that began in the secret Anglo-American war councils of 1944 has flared into the open. A growing chorus of opinion on both sides of the Atlantic has charged that the peace was lost as a result of political and strategic mistakes of World War II. No decision has drawn more fire from participants and "Monday morning quarterbacks" alike than that to invade southern France. It becomes all the more important, therefore, at this stage of the cold war, to take stock of this key decision-particularly to consider whether it really was as great a mistake as its critics have alleged it to be.[1]

[1] An undocumented and somewhat abbreviated version of the following 

essay, which grew out of a talk given by the author at the Army War 

College, appeared in United States Naval Institute Proceedings (July, 

1958 copyright 1958 by U.S. Naval Institute), under the title "Was the 

Invasion of Southern France a Blunder?" The Institute has kindly granted 

permission to reproduce portions of the article here. The subject is 

developed fully in the context of the story of Allied strategy in mid-

war in Maurice Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-

1944, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1959). Various 

aspects of it may be pursued further in the publications cited below.

Page 384

First, it is important to remember that, though the decision to undertake the southern France venture-the ANVIL operation-was made by the Americans and the British, it was definitely influenced by their Soviet ally. It grew out of discussions of the Big Three at the Cairo-Tehran Conference in November-December 1943. That conference was a showdown meeting among the Allies on European strategy, a climax of two years of debate between the Americans and British and of growing Soviet impatience for action in the West. A word must be said therefore about the three principal partners in the European war and their divergent approaches to that conflict.

Great Britain, the island empire, dependent on sea lanes for its very existence and situated precariously on the edge of Hitler's European Fortress, had for centuries put its faith in the balance of power. It could be expected to seek to revive and rally the smaller nations and to continue to throw its weight against any strong power that threatened to upset the balance on the Continent. It could also be expected to intervene actively in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, through which ran the lifeline to its empire in the Orient. Experienced in war, diplomacy, and empire, Great Britain had a long history of alliances with European powers and its military leaders were accustomed to working closely with its politicians and diplomats.

Across the Atlantic stood the other Western partner in the Alliance, the United States-young, impatient, rich in resources, highly industrialized, the country with the technical know-how. This was the country whose whole tradition in war had been first to declare, then to prepare. Traditionally opposed to becoming involved in European quarrels, it nevertheless had strong bonds with western Europe-especially England. The American approach to European war, based on U.S. experiences in World War I, seemed to be to hold off as long as possible, enter only long enough to give the bully who started it a sound thrashing, get the boys home, and then try to remain as uninvolved as before. Furthermore, throughout World War II, the President and his military staff could never forget the war against Japan, which to many Americans appeared to be a more natural enemy than Germany.

The third member in the alliance against Germany, the Soviet Union, was a land power with completely internal lines of communication. The Soviet Union represented an enigmatic, restless, and dy-

Page 385

namic force, devoted to a political and economic ideology different from that of the Western partners. As we get more perspective on the role of the USSR in World War II, it becomes evident that the period of its defensive struggle against Germany was merely a pause in twin drives for security and expansion. But for almost two years after the German attack the Soviet Union was engaged in a desperate fight for its very existence, and while political and territorial ambitions were by no means absent, military considerations were more immediately paramount. Still fearful of capitalist encirclement, suspicious of friend and foe alike, it occupied an uneasy position in the partnership which Maj. Gen. John R. Deane has so fittingly called "The Strange Alliance." [2]

The divergent approaches of the Allies toward the European war were at first most clearly reflected in the conflict between British and American strategy-between the peripheral theory, espoused by Churchill and the British staff, and the theory of mass and concentration advocated by General Marshall and his staff. The British wanted to hit the German Army at the edges of the Continent and launch a large-scale landing on the Continent only as the last blow against an enemy already in process of collapse; the Americans wanted to concentrate forces early at a selected time and place to meet the main body of the enemy head on and defeat it decisively. Both justified their theories and plans in terms of relieving the pressure on the Russians. Neither side could readily win the other to its concept of strategy and the long debate that ensued led to a delicate relationship with the Soviet Union. From the beginning the Russians, locked in a death struggle on the Eastern Front, had no doubts about the proper Western strategy. They wanted a second front, they wanted it soon, and they wanted it in the West. Each Anglo-American postponement of this second front added fuel to the fire. [3]

By November 1943-on the eve of Cairo-Tehran-a critical point had been reached in Allied war planning. Almost two years had gone

[2] For a description of wartime relations with the Soviet Union as seen 

from his post as head of the American Military Mission in Moscow, see 

John R. Deane, The Strange Alliance (New York: The Viking Press, 1947).

[3] The debate on strategy within the Grand Alliance may be traced in 

Maurice Matloff and Edwin M. Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition 

Warfare, 1941-1942, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 

1953); Maurice Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-

1944, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1959); John 

Ehrman, Grand Strategy, Vol. V, August 1943-September 1944 (London: Her 

Majesty's Stationery Office, 1956); Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and 

Hopkins: An Intimate History, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 

1950); Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War: The Grand Alliance 

(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1950), The Hinge of Fate (Boston: 

Houghton Mifflin Co., 1950), and Closing the Ring (Boston: Houghton 

Mifflin Co., 1951).

Page 386

by since Pearl Harbor. Firm agreement among the three Allies on how, when, and where to beat even the primary foe-Germany-was still lacking. One Mediterranean operation had followed another. North Africa had led to Sicily; Sicily, to the invasion of Italy. Always the skillful and resourceful arguments of the Prime Minister had urged the need to continue the momentum and acquire the immediate advantages, the "great prizes" to be picked up in the Mediterranean while the Allies were waiting for the right opportunity to cross the Channel in force. True, the Western partners had in August 1943 agreed on a major cross-Channel attack to be launched in the spring of 1944-Operation OVERLORD. But disturbing reports had been reaching Washington from London and Moscow. The Russians were hinting that they might accept increased pressure on the Germans in the Mediterranean even at the price of a delay in OVERLORD and might even accept aggressive action in Italy as a substitute for the second front. These hints of a reversal in the Soviet position, coming on the heels of reported British cooling on OVERLORD, gave the U.S. staff much concern. [5]

What appeared to the Americans to be at stake was far more than the date or even the ultimate fate of OVERLORD. The whole strategy of the global war, the "beat Germany first" concept, the roles of the respective Allies in the coalition effort-all were in the balance. If in the war against Germany the British were still wedded to the theory of attritional opportunism, the Americans had staked heavily on the principle of concentration. From early in the war their global strategy, manpower and production balance, and strategic deployment had all been planned with that primary end in view. OVERLORD represented the hope-perhaps the last hope-of realizing their basic strategic faith, and they were determined to accept no further delay in the long-promised and much-postponed invasion across the Channel. While the U.S. staff was apprehensive over the British and Soviet attitudes, both Roosevelt and Churchill were anxious to demonstrate their good faith to Stalin.

The meeting at Tehran was the decisive conference in European

[4] (1) Msg, Deane to Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), 9 Nov 43, CM-IN 5951. 

(2) Msg Deane to Marshall 11 Nov 43, CM-IN 7461. (3) See also Gordon A. 

Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 

(Washington 1951) p. 121.

[5] (1) Operations Division (OPD) Draft Memo, CofS for President, 8 Nov 

43, sub: Conduct of the European War, with Tab 90 in ABC 381 Strategy 

Sec Papers, Nos. 2-95 (7 Jan 43). (2) Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge 

Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York: Harper & Brothers, 

1948), p. 439. (3) Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 

1943-1944, Ch. XIII.

Page 387

strategy. [6] Preliminary exchanges between the Americans and British at Cairo were inconclusive. At Tehran for the first time in the war the President, the Prime Minister, and their staffs met with Marshal Stalin and his staff. The Prime Minister made eloquent appeals for operations in Italy, the Aegean, and the eastern Mediterranean, even at the expense of a delay in OVERLORD. Stalin at this point unequivocally put his weight behind the American concept of strategy. Confident of Russia's capabilities, he asserted his full power as an equal member of the coalition and came out strongly in favor of OVERLORD. Further operations in the Mediterranean, he insisted, should be limited to the invasion of southern France in support of OVERLORD. Soviet experience over the past two years, he declared, had shown that a large offensive from one direction was not wise; that pincer operations of the type represented by simultaneous operations against northern and southern France were most fruitful. These operations would best help the Soviet Union. In turn, the Russians promised to launch a simultaneous all-out offensive on the Eastern Front.

Stalin's stand put the capstone on Anglo-American strategy. In a sense, therefore, he fixed Western strategy. Churchill lost out, and the Americans gained the decision they had so long desired. The final blueprint for Allied victory in Europe had taken shape.

It was typical of the President at Tehran to act as arbitrator, if not judge, between the other two leaders, as different in their methods as in the views they represented. The President did not appear completely indifferent to Churchill's eloquence and persuasiveness and to the possibilities of Mediterranean ventures, particularly in the Adriatic. At the same time he was under strong pressure from his military advisers to see that nothing delay OVERLORD and in the end he held fast. [7] The President's task in this respect was undoubtedly made easier, as was that of the U.S. staff, by Stalin's firm stand. Years later, Churchill, still convinced that the failure at Tehran to adopt his eastern Mediterranean policy was a fateful error, wrote: "I could have gained Stalin, but the President was oppressed by the prejudices of his military advisers, and drifted to and fro in the argument, with the result that the whole of these subsidiary but gleaming opportunities were cast aside unused." [8]

[6] The following discussion on the Tehran Conference is based on (1) 

Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, Ch. XXIII; (2) Churchill, Closing the 

Ring, Chs. 4, 5, 6; (3) Matloff, Strategic Planning for Coalition 

Warfare, 1943-1944, Ch. XVI. The minutes of the meetings are contained 

in the Official SEXTANT Conference Book.

[7] For interpretations of the President's role at Tehran, see: (1) 

Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, pp. 780, 789; (2) Deane, The Strange 

Alliance, pp. 41-43; and (3) William D. Leahy, I Was There (New York: 

Whittlesey House, 1950), pp. 204ff.

[8] Churchill, Closing the Ring, p. 346.

Page 388

On the morning of 30 November, the Combined Chiefs of Staff agreed to recommend that OVERLORD be launched during May, in conjunction with a supporting operation against southern France. The operation against southern France was to be mounted on as big a scale as the available landing craft permitted. For planning purposes, D-day for southern France was to be the same as OVERLORD D-day. [9]

The plan for an operation against southern France to which the Combined Chiefs made reference was, to say the least, vague. It was actually an old plan, newly dusted off. Stalin's expressed interest at the opening session of the conference in an invasion of southern France linked to OVERLORD had caught the U.S. and British delegations somewhat by surprise. It is true that for a long time the Americans and British had been thinking about some kind of southern France operation to be carried out eventually. As far back as April 1943, there had been talk of such an operation, and at the Quebec Conference in August 1943 the CCS had put on the planning books a proposal for a diversionary operation against southern France to be launched in connection with OVERLORD. Considerable staff planning had already been done on such an operation. But the bulk of the Anglo-American planning staff had been left at Cairo, and the only available study at hand was a copy of a joint outline plan drawn up on 9 August 1943-a plan already much out of date. Working feverishly with this plan as a basis, the few U.S. planners at Tehran had ready on 29 November a study for the U.S. Chiefs and the President. It called for a two-division assault launched from Corsica and Sardinia, building up to ten divisions, and optimistically, if vaguely, assumed that the landing craft and the other resources would probably be available. [10] It was on the basis of this study that the Americans and the British, urged on by the Russians, committed themselves at Tehran to a southern France operation.

The Tehran decisions represented far more than the fashioning, at long last, of a grand design and a pattern for victory. They marked a still subtle but significant change in the balance of military power within the coalition. Britain was growing relatively weaker, the United States and the USSR stronger. Capitalizing on lend-lease, its production behind the Urals, the sacrifice of its armies and people, and the effects of a war of attrition on the German invaders, the Soviet Bear had been able to make its weight felt in the strategic scales at a critical point in Allied councils. The Soviet Union was coming into its own.

[9] Min, 132d Mtg Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS), 30 Nov 43.

[10] (1) Joint Planning Staff (JPS) 249, 9 Aug 43, title: Plan for 

Invasion of Southern France. (2) Study, 29 Nov 43, title: Operation 

Against Southern France, ABC 384 Europe (5 Aug 43), 9a. (3) Harrison, 

Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 123-25.

Page 389

The United States, too, had grown stronger. By the close of 1943, when Britain had practically completed its mobilization and strains and stresses had begun to show up in its economy, America's industrial and military machine was in high gear. In mid-war, the Americans drew up to and threatened to pass the British in deployed strength in the European theater. The growing flow of U.S. military strength and supplies to the theater assured the triumph of the U.S. staff concept of a concentrated, decisive war, an objective reinforced by the addition, from the Casablanca Conference onward, of the unconditional surrender formula. Via the military doctrine of concentration the strategists of the Kremlin and of the Pentagon had found common ground. Tehran, which fixed the European strategy, marked the beginning of a wartime realignment in the European power balance.

The upshot of the concluding Anglo-American discussions in Cairo was to confirm that OVERLORD and ANVIL were to be the "supreme operation for 1944" and that nothing was to be done in any part of the world to jeopardize their success. [11] Anvil was an integral part of the decisions then made. But in the months that followed Tehran the southern France operation came perilously close to being abandoned in favor of further exploitation in Italy and possibly in the Balkans. A drawn-out debate ensued-marked by long discussions in the theater and numerous exchanges between Washington and London. Plans and preparations seesawed-now the operation was on, now it was off-not once, but several times.

The controversy over ANVIL in the months that followed Tehran falls into two main phases, roughly divided by June 1944 when the Allies captured Rome and went ashore in Normandy. The first phase is a story of confusion, uncertainty, and the temporary abandonment of the operations; the second, of gradual recovery and triumph.

The details of the Anglo-American debate in the early months of 1944 need not concern us here. [12] A variety of interlocking pressures built up against the operation. The widespread demands to strengthen the OVERLORD assault, the slow progress of the Italian campaign and the move to speed it up, the lukewarmness of the British, the lack of landing craft, and shortage of other key resources-all contributed to ANVIL's decline. The debate developed first as between OVERLORD and

[11] CCS 426/1, 6 Dec 43, title: Report to the President and Prime 


[12] Details of the debate are traced in (1) Matloff, Strategic Planning 

for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, Chs, XVIII, XXI; (2) Harrison, Cross-

Channel Attack, Ch. V; Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command, UNITED 

STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1954), Chs. VI, XII; (4) 

Ehrman, Grand Strategy, Vol. V, Chs. VI, VII, IX; (5) Churchill, Closing 

the Ring, Ch. 11, and Triumph and Tragedy (Boston; Houghton Mifflin Co., 

1953), Ch. 4.

Page 390

ANVIL and then as between ANVIL and the Italian campaign. The resultant keen competition for that ever-precious commodity-landing craft-demonstrated the existing gap in planning between the strategists and the logisticians, and gave further proof of that old axiom in strategy that, to be effective, plans and means must match. As priorities for an expanded OVERLORD assault and the Italian campaign rose, ANVIL received the short end of the stick.

By the beginning of February the British attitude hardened in opposition to the operation. The British were as much concerned by the additional needs of the Italian campaign as they were by those of the OVERLORD assault. The end run at Anzio, spurred by Churchill, had failed to break the stalemate in south Italy and pave the way for a subsequent drive on Rome. The British were convinced that the badly stalled Italian campaign must be started up again in earnest. The familiar specter of the draining powers of secondary operations rose to haunt the Washington Army staff. But Churchill, who firmly believed that a vigorous campaign in Italy would offer the greatest assistance to OVERLORD, felt that some flexibility in disposing Allied strength and resources in the Mediterranean was fully justified.

General Marshall and his planning assistants were not opposed to the prosecution of the Italian campaign as far as Rome, or slightly north thereof, but they also believed that planning and preparations for ANVIL had to be continued at least until April if it was to have any chance of being launched in the spring. To the Washington staff ANVIL and OVERLORD were essential parts of the same undertaking. [13]

Between the War Department struggling to keep ANVIL alive and Churchill intent on prosecuting the Italian campaign, Eisenhower found himself in a difficult position. He agreed with the War Department's estimate of the significance of ANVIL, but he was charged with the success of OVERLORD and from his driver's seat the planning hazards began to make ANVIL appear less feasible. To help settle the issue, the American Joint Chiefs, at Marshall's suggestion, delegated their authority to Eisenhower. [14]

On 24 February General Eisenhower and the British Chiefs reached a compromise. The campaign in Italy was to have overriding priority over all other operations in the Mediterranean, at least until 20 March, at which time the situation would be reviewed. In the interval plan-

[13] For the War Department views, see especially: (1) Memo, Hull for 

Handy, 15 Feb 44, no sub, Paper 253, Book 15, Exec 9; (2) Memo, Hull for 

CofS, 14 Mar 44, sub: ANVIL, Book 16, Exec 9; (3) Ltr, [Handy] to 

Devers, 15 Mar 44, Paper 403, Book 16, Exec 9.

[14] (1) Memo, Marshall for Leahy and King, 9 Feb 44, sub: OVERLORD-

ANVIL, with Min, 132d Mtg CCS, in ABC 384 Europe (5 Aug 43), 1-A. (2) 

Msg, Marshall to Eisenhower, 9 Feb 44, CM-OUT 3919.

Page 391

ning for ANVIL was to continue. [15] That the President and the Prime Minister accepted the compromise did not really settle the question. General Eisenhower became more and more uneasy over the shortage of landing craft for OVERLORD. Despite vigorous and costly Allied attacks, the situation in Italy did not improve. The stalemate continued. When the time set for reviewing the situation came around, General "Jumbo" Wilson, the Allied commander in the Mediterranean, and the British Chiefs insisted that an ANVIL simultaneous with OVERLORD be abandoned. On 21 March Eisenhower also concluded that ANVIL as a simultaneous attack must be canceled. Their recommendations were adopted. [13]

The decision in late March to forego a simultaneous ANVIL did not end the debate over ANVIL versus the Italian campaign. Old differences between the staffs were reargued. They now boiled down to a matter of options-the British wished to retain the option to continue the Italian campaign; the Americans, to launch ANVIL. The British argued that when an all-out offensive was launched in Italy it should continue until June, and then a final decision could be made on ANVIL depending on the situation on the Italian and Normandy fronts. The U.S. Chiefs insisted that once the two Italian fronts were joined, nothing should interfere with ANVIL.

Back of the continued U.S. pressure for keeping ANVIL alive lay the familiar staff concern with ending the war against Germany quickly and decisively and with the least political embroilments. As Brig. Gen. Frank N. Roberts, the chief Army planner, summed it up:

If we cancel ANVIL completely, the following will be true:

a. We get into political difficulties with the French.

b. OVERLORD will lose at least ten fighting divisions.

c. Our service forces continue to support the western Mediterranean.

d. Our divisions and the French divisions will be committed to a costly, unremunerative, inching advance in Italy. The people of both the United States and France may or may not take this indefinitely.

e. Once committed to Italy, we have our forces pointed towards Southeastern Europe and will have the greatest difficulty in preventing their use for occupation forces in Austria, Hungary and southern Germany. [17]

As a way out of the impasse, the British Chiefs proposed a new

[15] Copy of Msg, Leahy to President, 24 Feb 44, Incl to Memo, Col A. J. 

McFarland, JCS, for OPD, and for Aide to COMINCH [U.S. Fleet], 24 Feb 

44, sub: Msg From British Chiefs of Staff on Conclusions Agreed This 

Morning at Meeting Held Between British Chiefs of Staff and General 

Eisenhower, with Paper 17, Item 55 Exec 10.

[16] (1) Msg, Eisenhower to Marshall, 21 Mar 44, CM-IN 15i29. (2) CCS 

465/12, 23 Mar 44, title: Firm Recommendations With Regard to OVERLORD 

and ANVIL. (3) CCS 465/14, 24 Mar 44, title: OVERLORD and ANVIL. (4) 

Churchill, Closing the Ring, pp. 512-13.

[17] Memo, Roberts for Handy, 23 Mar 44, sub: What Shall We Do About 

ANVIL? Book 16, Exec 9.

Page 392

compromise, and to get on with operations in the Mediterranean the U.S. Chiefs agreed on 18 April to go along with it. [18] Allied resources in the Mediterranean were to be thrown into an all-out offensive in Italy, which was to have first priority. ANVIL was deferred indefinitely. OVERLORD would have to make its own way.

The end of the first phase of the debate over ANVIL permitted both the Normandy and Italian campaigns to go forward. On 12 May the Allied command in Italy launched the full-scale offensive. The bridgehead and the main battle line were soon linked up and the deadlock in Italy was broken. On 4 June, two days before the Normandy invasion, the Allies finally captured Rome.

As the Allied armies swept into Rome and Normandy, the debate between the British and Americans reopened. Would the prize be the occupation of all Italy, the capture of Istria and Trieste, and an advance through the Ljubljana Gap, with political and strategic consequences for the Balkans, or the direct strengthening of OVERLORD and of the subsequent continental drive? The Allies must either continue the Mediterranean drive and commit themselves to a strong and active offense in the south or throw their might into the assault on Germany from the west and content themselves with a holding role in Italy.

In June 1944, shortly after D-day, the U.S. Chiefs flew to London for an informal conference with the British. The American Chiefs held firmly to an operation in the western Mediterranean but were willing to consider other plans of action. In the end the CCS decided to explore several possibilities. General Wilson was asked to furnish plans and estimates for operations at Sete and Istria as well as for ANVIL; Eisenhower, for an operation on the Bay of Biscay. Each operation was to be planned on the basis of a three-division lift and to be mounted about 25 July. [19]

In the days that followed the divergent views came into clearer focus. General Wilson came out strongly for a push in Italy toward the Ljubljana Gap and southern Hungary. He thus advanced the British thesis that OVERLORD could be aided elsewhere than in southern France. General Eisenhower countered with a recommendation that ANVIL be launched by 15 August. Concerned because his operations in Normandy were behind schedule, he argued that ANVIL would give him an additional port, open a route to the Ruhr, and help the Maquis. He firmly believed that the Allies could support but one major

[18] (1) Msg, COS to Jt Stf Mission, 16 Apr 44, COS (W) 1284, Item 68, 

Exec 10. (2) Msg, COS to Jt Stf Mission, 16 Apr 44, COS (W) 1285, Item 

16, Exec 3. (3) CCS 465/22, 18 Apr 44, title: OVERLORD and ANVIL.

[19] Msg, CCS to Wilson and Eisenhower, 14 Jun 44, CM-IN 11530.

Page 393

theater in the European war-the OVERLORD battle area. Both General Marshall and General Eisenhower stressed the need for a major port through which to pour some forty to fifty divisions waiting in the United States for battle in France. Since the SHAEF staff frowned on Bay of Biscay operations and viewed the Sete movement as impracticable because of timing, the Americans swung back to the original ANVIL to stay. The U.S. Chiefs of Staff now lined up solidly in back of General Eisenhower; the British behind General Wilson. The Prime Minister directed his attack on the President and Eisenhower, while the British Chiefs sought to sway their American opposites. In the face of these new onslaughts, the American lines held suprisingly firm. [20]

Churchill was willing to help General Eisenhower but not, he stated, at the expense of the complete ruin "of our great affairs in the Mediterranean." [21] He argued that, to hasten the end of the European war, "Political considerations, such as the revolt of populations against the enemy or the submission and coming over of his satellites, are a valid and important factor." [22]

The President would not yield. To him the courses of action decided upon at Tehran still were the best means of bringing about the unconditional surrender of Germany. He agreed that the political factors mentioned by Churchill were significant, but the most important task at hand was to advance into Germany. Any operations into Istria and the Balkans would be diversionary and secondary. He could not agree to the employment of U.S. forces in that area. Nor did he think the French would support the use of their troops in the Balkans. Plans laid at Tehran had gone well so far. Any change in ANVIL would have to be cleared with Stalin. The President concluded by reminding Churchill: "Finally, for purely political considerations over here, I should never survive even a slight setback in 'OVERLORD' if it were known that fairly large forces had been diverted to the Balkans." [23]

Years later a still annoyed Churchill was to write, "It was his [the President's] objections to a descent on the Istria Peninsula and a thrust against Vienna through the Ljubljana Gap that revealed both the rigidity of the American military plans and his own suspicion of what

[20] (1) Msg 718, Prime Minister to President, 28 Jun 44, Item 63c, Exec 

10. (2) James D. T. Hamilton, Southern France and Alsace, MS, Ch. IV, 

OCMH files. (3) Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 63ff. (4) Msg 573, 

President to Prime Minister, 28 Jun 44, Item 63c, Exec 10. (5) Msg, 

Marshall to Eisenhower, 27 Jun 44, CM-OUT 57012.

[21] Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 63.

[22] Ibid., p. 716.

[23] Msg, President to Prime Minister, 29 Jun 44, quoted in Churchill, 

Triumph and Tragedy, p. 723.

Page 394

he called a campaign 'in the Balkans.' [24] Churchill vigorously denied that anyone involved in these discussions had "ever thought of moving armies into the Balkans." [25]

Whatever would have been the ultimate political or military effects of Churchill's Balkan policy-and this is still a moot point-he was not to win out. The President, in complete agreement with his staff, held firm. On 2 July he asked the Prime Minister to direct General Wilson to set the wheels in motion for an early ANVIL. He declared, "I am compelled by the logic of not dispersing our main efforts to a new theatre to agree with my Chiefs of Staff.... I always think of my early geometry-'a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.' [26] General Marshall and his staff could ask for nothing more.

The President's personal pleas broke through the Prime Minister's adamant position, and he consented to the issuance of the directive to Wilson. On 2 July the CCS issued the directive: ANVIL would be launched with a target date of 15 August on a three-division assault basis and an airborne lift to be decided later. The build-up would be to ten divisions. [27] After months of uncertainty, ANVIL had apparently become a firm commitment-only six weeks before it was to be launched.

Nevertheless, in spite of their consent there were indications that the British did not consider the matter closed. When the Allied break-through at St. Lo proved successful during the last week in July, the British made their final effort to cancel ANVIL (now renamed DRAGOON). With the possibility of using the ports in Brittany to reinforce OVERLORD, Churchill and the British Chiefs tried again. Eisenhower was subjected to intense pressure from the Prime Minister to alter his stand. To Hopkins, Churchill also sent a last-minute appeal to intercede and influence Marshall. [28]

Any worries that the Army planners may have had proved groundless, for Eisenhower clung firmly to DRAGOON as OVERLORD's best concomitant. To Churchill, Eisenhower suggested that he was willing to change his plan of campaign only if the Prime Minister and the President ruled that political considerations were to be paramount; on military grounds alone he would not yield in favor of a Balkan campaign. With the U.S. Chiefs, Hopkins, and the President in turn

[24] Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 65.

[25] Ibid. The italics are Churchill's.

[26] Quoted in Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 66.

[27] Msg, CCS to Wilson and Eisenhower, 2 Jul 44, CM-IN 1613.

[28] (1) Msg 742, Prime Minister to President, 4 Aug 44, Item 63c, Exec 

10. (2) Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (Garden City, N.Y.: 

Doubleday & Co., Inc, 1948), pp. 281-84. (3) Hamilton, Southern France 

and Alsace, MS, Ch. IX.

Page 395

standing behind the decision, the British finally conceded defeat. On 10 August the British Chiefs notified General Wilson he was to proceed with DRAGOON as planned, a directive that the CCS confirmed on the following day-just four days before the landing. The British would have to salvage the Italian campaign as best they could. [29]

After more than two years of discussion, frequently warm and spirited, the great debate over the Mediterranean and the cross-Channel attack was finally laid to rest. The debate over the southern France operation in the summer of 1944 may be viewed as the last gasp of the peripheral strategy advocated by Churchill and his staff from the beginning of the European struggle. But the war had already entered a new era. And in his arguments for canceling the southern France operation, Churchill was, in effect, giving peripheral strategy a new twist and a more openly political form, applying it now to the Soviet Union as well as to Germany. Despite the valiant efforts of the British to win another reprieve for the Mediterranean, the U.S. insistence on supplying extra power to OVERLORD had carried the day and sounded the knell for any ambitious plans in southeast Europe.

So much for the wartime debate, decisions, and revisions. It is clear that the differences of opinion between the Americans and British over ANVIL were but one expression of the underlying disagreement over the type of war to be fought and the objectives to be sought by the Anglo-American coalition. What of the postwar charge that the decision to undertake the southern France operation was a great mistake-a prime example of American political and strategic naivete, one of the worst blunders of the war, a blunder that helped throw the victory to the Russians? This charge has taken two chief forms. One, that the operation, designed, as it were, to buttress the "big blow" strategy of the Americans, must share the general round of criticism that has been directed against that strategy. This represents a postwar version of the case for peripheral strategy over that of mass and concentration. The other form of attack is more specific-that strategically and politically the Western partners would have gained far more by an operation against the Balkans. Both have in common the notion that American strategists concentrated too heavily on winning the military victory over Germany and not enough on political considerations.

Much of postwar writing on the grand strategy of World War II has been dominated by British writers-led by the incomparable Churchill-and the arguments advanced have become generally familiar. One can hardly pick up a book on World War II without coming

[29] (1) Msg 596, President to Prime Minister, 7 Aug 44, Item 63c, Exec 

10. (2) Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, pp. 281-84. (3) Churchill, 

Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 71, 99-101.

Page 396

across them, or find articles on World War II in our popular magazines that do not mention examples of U.S. strategic and political naivete. Incidentally, the list of so-called blunders of World War II is apparently growing. Hanson Baldwin's original modest six were recently tripled by Captain W. D. Puleston (USN, Ret.). [30] From all latest reports, the southern France decision is still holding its high rating on the "big blunder" hit parade. What must be noted is that the eloquence of the British writers, the plausibility of their case, and the frustrations of the postwar years as tensions with the USSR have increased-all have given their case great prominence. The resultant criticism of the U.S. strategy runs the gamut from the nostalgic "I told you so" of the Prime Minister and the reasoned historical analysis of a Liddell Hart in favor of a counter-strategy to a vindictive search for scapegoats by certain sections of the American press. What has been lost in all this barrage is the American case, its compulsions, its strong points, its logic. Obscured, too, are the positive results derived from the southern France operation, although General Eisenhower has stated in retrospect: "There was no development of that period which added more decisively to our advantages or aided us more in accomplishing the final and complete defeat of the German forces than did this secondary attack coming up the Rhone Valley." [31]

There is not space here to examine in detail the general charges against American strategy around which most of the postwar criticisms on the conduct of the war have centered. Churchill has lashed out at what he terms the American "logical, large-scale, mass production style of thought." [32] J. F. C. Fuller; the British student of strategy, has expressed the same thought in referring to this type of strategy as "ironmongering." [33] Chester Wilmot, the late Australian publicist, concluded that the Americans were "militarily unsophisticated." [34] In this representation of their strategy, the Americans pursued relentlessly and rigidly a kind of "big business" strategy built around the notion of concentrating tons of hardware in the British Isles and hurling it across the Channel on a definite time schedule in such great quantities that the hapless Germans would be all but submerged. This criticism begs the question whether the Churchillian approach-the peripheral approach-however suitable to British man-

[30] (1) Hanson W. Baldwin, Great Mistakes of the War (New York: Harper 

& Brothers, 1950). (2) Captain W. D. Puleston (USN, Ret.), "Revealed-

Blunders of World War II," U.S. News & World Report, February 4, 


[31] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 294.

[32] Churchill, Closing the Ring, p. 426.

[33] J. F. C. Fuller, The Second World War, 1939-45 (New York: Duell, 

Sloan and Pearce, 1949), pp. 250, 266, 385.

[34] Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (London: Collins, 1952), p. 


Page 397

power, economy, and traditions, was suited to U.S. capacities and traditions. Gordon Harrison, author of Cross-Channel Attack, has remarked "To accuse the Americans of mass-production thinking is only to accuse them of having a mass-production economy and recognizing the military advantage of such an economy. The Americans were power-minded." From the beginning they thought in terms of taking on the main German armies and beating them. What they wanted was a "power drive," not a "mop-up." [35]

Back of the U.S. Chiefs' fear of a policy of attritional and peripheral warfare against Germany in mid-war lay their continued anxiety over its ultimate costs in men, money, and time. This anxiety was intensified by their concern over getting on with the war against Japan. Basic in their thought was a growing realization of the ultimate limits of U.S. manpower available for war purposes. To the military the discernible ceilings in military manpower, and anxiety about the effects of a long-continued period of maximum mobilization, confirmed their doctrine of concentration. But it is a mistake to believe that the Americans remained opposed to all Mediterranean operations. As the debate over the southern France operation shows, a good part of their labors in 1943 and 1944 was actually spent in reconciling Mediterranean operations with the cross-Channel operation. It should also be carefully noted that the weakening of Great Britain and its close dependence on the United States were well under way before the end of 1943-when the peripheral strategy to which the Prime Minister was so dedicated was still in vogue.

The controversy that had arisen over the question of a Balkan operation demands special attention. Would it not have been wiser to have invaded the Continent through the Balkans and thereby forestalled Soviet domination of Central Europe? The fact must be emphasized that this is a postwar debate. The Balkan invasion was never proposed by any responsible leader in Allied strategy councils as an alternative to OVERLORD, and no Allied debate or planning took place in those terms. The evidence is clear on this point. The Balkan versus southern France argument is another kettle of fish. Churchill has steadfastly denied that he wanted a Balkan invasion and the evidence, though not entirely clear, seems to bear him out. [36] But there are ambiguities in his position that remain to be explained. Undoubtedly, he was in favor of raids, assistance for native populations, throwing

[35] Gordon Harrison, "Operation OVERLORD," transcript of an address 

delivered at the Army War College, 19 November 1951, OCMH files.

[36] The most recent examination of the Prime Minister's position is 

contained in Ehrman's volumes on Grand Strategy. For Churchill's 

position on the Balkans in 1943, see Volume V, pages 112-13, and 

Appendix, pages 554-56.

Page 398

in a few armored divisions, and like measures, but nowhere in his wartime or postwar writing has he faced the question that so frightened the U.S. staff-the ultimate costs and requirements of an operation in the Balkans, an area of poor terrain and poor communications. This becomes all the more important in the light of World War II experience with Mediterranean operations-a striking demonstration of how great the costs of a war of attrition can be. What is also clear is that both the President and the U.S. staff were determined to stay out of the thorny politics of the Balkan area. Suffice it to say, the Balkan question was never argued out in full and frank military or political terms during World War II.

Before we accept the case for the Balkan alternative to the southern France operation, there are other points to be pondered. With all due respect to the greatest phrase-maker of them all, there probably is no worse misnomer than the so-called "soft underbelly." There is nothing soft about the European underbelly. As any good terrain map will show, the Balkan area has a hard-shelled back-certainly not one ideally suited for armored warfare. Aside from terrain, logistical factors must be considered. Suppose an operation in the Balkans had bogged down or developed into a big campaign? In that case additional bases would have had to be built in the Middle East to support it. Then there was the question of turnaround time. To have reoriented the Allied effort to the Balkans would have required a great diversion from the continental build-up and might have slowed plans for redeployment to the Pacific. To have reoriented that effort to the Balkans would itself have required considerable time. That the Allies were not diverted from the northern campaign may even have been England's salvation. For otherwise, Hitler might eventually have pulverized Britain with V-2 projectiles from launching platforms in the Low Countries.

Then there is the important factor of public opinion. Would the American people in the summer of 1944 have tolerated a shift from the much-publicized second front to an effort in the Balkans? The judgment of the President, the responsible American policy maker, was no. Here it is important to consider the divergent approaches of the Prime Minister and the President to the European war. To Churchill, anxiously watching the rapid Soviet advance into Poland and the Balkans, the war had become more than ever a contest for great political stakes, and he wished Western Allied strength diverted to fill the vacuum left by the retreating Germans and thereby forestall the Soviet surge. Had the President joined with the Prime Minister as he often had in the past, the U.S. military staff's concentration on bringing the war against Germany to a swift military conclusion

Page 399

might have been tempered and the war steered into more direct political channels. But the President would not, and the Prime Minister by himself could not. Many reasons may account for the President's position-state of his health, anxiety to conclude the Japanese conflict, desire to get on with the tasks of peace. In any event, by the last year of the war the American Commander in Chief was caught on the horns of a political dilemma. There is reason to believe that he was not unconcerned about the unilateral efforts of the Soviet Union to put its impress on the shape of postwar Europe. But domestic political considerations required him to fight a quick and decisive war-one that would justify U.S. entry and the dispatch of U.S. troops abroad. He had done the job of educating the American people to the need for active participation in the European conflict, but whether he could have led them to a prolonged war or to a prolonged stay of U.S. troops in occupation duties-such as might have resulted from the more active U.S. role in southeastern Europe desired by the Prime Minister-was more doubtful. Besides, President Roosevelt's policy for peace, like President Woodrow Wilson's, seemed to rest on national self-determination and an international organization to maintain peace-not on the balance of power. To achieve this aim he had to take the calculated risk of being able to handle Stalin and of winning and keeping the friendship of the Soviet Union. To use U.S. military strength to play the game of European power politics might have defeated both aims.

While the Prime Minister appeared willing to go a long way in the same direction, he hedged more toward the traditional balance of power theory. Churchill's inability in the last year of the war to reverse the trend bore eloquent testimony to the changed relationships between U.S. and British military weight and to the shifting bases of the Grand Alliance. The United States had the power but did not choose to use it; the Prime Minister had the purpose but not the power. After the middle of 1944 British war production became increasingly unbalanced, and the British fought the remainder of the war under a contracting economy. Clearly, the last year of the war saw the foundations of the Alliance in further transition, British influence waning, and the United States and the Soviet Union emerging as the two strongest powers in the world.

It is in the light of this shift in the power balance that we must consider the Prime Minister's alternatives. The strong presumption in the postwar debate is that had the Allies entered the Balkans the Russians would somehow have been held in check. The counter-argument must also be weighed. Aside from questions of military feasibility, there is no certainty that such a move would have produced

Page 400

the desired peace. Had the Western partners become involved in the Balkans, the Russians might have gone all the way to the Channel, perhaps picking up the strategic Ruhr along the way. Had the Western Allies entered the Balkans in force in the face of the advancing Russians, there is also no assurance that new embroilments might not have been begun then and there as the Americans feared. With the traditional balance of power upset, Great Britain growing weaker, the Russians intent on pushing their strategic frontiers westward, and the United States determined to leave Europe soon, more drastic measures than the temporary diversion of some Western military power-largely U.S. power at that-would seem to have been required to check the Russians and assure the peace in Europe.

It appears clear that back of Churchill's Balkan policy lay the traditional British balance of power theory. But there is a serious question here too for students of strategy to consider. At the risk of oversimplification, it may be said that traditionally the British practice rested on its treasure, its Navy, and some ground forces-all placed where they could do the most good. By the summer of 1944, Britain had neither the wealth nor the uncommitted ground forces to give, and its Navy could serve little against a land power such as the Soviet Union. Clearly it would have required Allied help-especially American-to make the theory work. With U.S. public opinion unprepared for a sudden shift in objective-from Germany to the Soviet Union-and with American tradition opposed to involving U.S. forces in European power politics, how realistic was the Churchillian policy? Furthermore, Communism has been called "an ideology in Arms"-an ideology with its own body of doctrine, tactics, and ethics that operates on a global scale and assumes many forms of power-political, economic, psychological, as well as military; a colossus that can apparently wait generations to attain its ends. That the balance of power theory was a useful concept in Britain's past history vis-a-vis continental Europe is undoubtedly true. Whether the British experience with the traditional balance of power theory in Europe is the answer to the Communist threat now, any more than it could have been in the summer of 1944, is questionable. Willy nilly the power balance in the world has changed, and power itself has assumed new forms.