Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-1943

By Richard M. Leighton; Robert W. Coakley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
Build-up in the British Isles ---- First Phase

At the end of February 1942 the lately proclaimed Allied strategy of concentrating all efforts first on defeating Germany had an air of unreality. The ramshackle Allied front along the Malay Barrier had collapsed, and the drain of U.S. troops, aircraft, and shipping to the far Pacific left very little for action in the Atlantic. Early in March Operation GYMNAST, the proposed Anglo-American occupation of French North Africa, was relegated to the "academic" category by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. Britain's hold on the Bay of Bengal seemed almost lost and India open to invasion; in the Middle East she faced the necessity of replacing the Australian and New Zealand divisions that those dominions were preparing to recall to face the threat of Japanese invasion. By the end of January General Sir Claude J. E. Auchinleck's promising offensive in Libya had ended in retreat and the loss of most of Cyrenaica. In an effort to avert collapse in the Middle and Far East, Churchill planned to send out almost three hundred thousand troops from the home islands from February through May. For necessary American help in transporting these troops, he was willing to accept a long postponement of the planned build-up of U.S. forces in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, before the end of February, the American military leaders were preparing to send further substantial reinforcements to the Central and Southwest Pacific and to the island chain connecting them. There seemed little prospect of an early "closing and tightening the ring" about Germany.1


Middle-of-the-Road Strategy

To General Marshall and some of his staff, this drift of strategic emphasis away from the western theater of war seemed dangerous. Unless Germany were soon attacked in force, the Soviet armies might succumb and Germany might make herself invulnerable on the European continent. Whatever might be lost in the Southwest Pacific in 1942, some members of the staff argued, the war itself was not likely to be lost there, while it could well be lost in Europe. The danger seemed the greater in January and February as the

____________________
1
(1) CCS 5/2, 3 Mar 42, title: SUPER-GYMNAST. (2) Matloff and Snell, Strategic Planning: 1941-1942, Chs. VI-VII. (3) See above, Ch. VI. (4) Msg, Former Naval Person [ Churchill] to President Roosevelt, 4 Mar 42, as quoted in Churchill, Hinge of Fate, pp. 189-91.

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