The Eisenhower Studies

After Pearl Harbor, an unknown and recently promoted brigadier general, Dwight Eisenhower, was assigned to head the Pacific and Far East Plans Division of the War Department. Eisenhower had spent a significant amount of time in the Philippines as a military adviser to the Filipino government. As a former aide to MacArthur, it was expected that he was the most knowledgeable man in the US Army about how best for America’s forces in the Pacific to assist the inevitable defense of the Philippines. However, in conjunction with the Navy Plans Division, it was decided that the remaining US forces in the Pacific couldn’t come to the aide of the beleaguered garrison of Wake Island, much less the Philippines.

On 14 February 1942, the same day Gen Wavell recommended the dissolution of the ABDA Command (the formation of which consumed the entirety of Eisenhower’s time through the Arcadia Conference and into January), Eisenhower was made Chief of the entire War Plans Division by General Marshall, who had a penchant for spotting talent.

The War Plans Division was supposed to put the Army’s detail into the general grand strategy that the Combined Chiefs of Staff (the combined American Joint Chiefs of Staff and British Chiefs of Staff, and their multitude of joint and multinational committees) that was approved by Churchill and FDR. But the staffs inside the CCS couldn’t agree on anything: Germany vs Japan, Britain vs America, Atlantic vs Pacific, Britain vs Australia, the MidEast vs India, Army vs Navy, Army Air Forces vs everybody. Eisenhower wrote in his diary, “The struggle to secure the adoption by all concerned of a common concept of Strategical objectives is wearing me down. Everybody is too much engaged with small things of his own”. The infighting within the CCS was so bad and the various factions so irreconcilable, that by late-February the CCS had to issue two papers regarding strategy, both majority and minority opinions.

Since the War Plans Division couldn’t plan anything concrete anyway, Eisenhower began his own study into the grand strategy of the Allies, either on his own, or more likely, at the exasperated Marshall’s request. Just two weeks later (!), with a significant amount of input from his contacts in the Navy Plans Division, Eisenhower submitted his formal studies to Marshall.

The studies began with three propositions of grand strategy that the staffs and committees of the CCS couldn’t even agree on:

“[1] . . . in the event of a war involving both oceans, the U.S. should adopt the strategic defensive in the Pacific and devote its major offensive effort across the Atlantic.

[2] . . . we must differentiate sharply and definitely between those things whose current accomplishment in the several theaters over the world is necessary to the ultimate defeat of the Axis Powers, as opposed to those which are merely desirable because of their effect in facilitating such defeat.

[3] The United States interest in maintaining contact with Australia and in preventing further Japanese expansion to the Southeastward is apparent. . . . but . . . they are not immediately vital to the successful outcome of the war. The problem is one of determining what we can spare for the effort in that region. without seriously impairing performance of our mandatory tasks.”

Eisenhower would then go on to specify the proposed “necessary” objectives (assuming the security of the Hawaii, and North and South America):

“a. Maintenance of the United Kingdom, which involves relative security of the North Atlantic sea lanes.
b. Retention of Russia in the war as an active enemy of Germany.
c. Maintenance of a Volition in the India Middle East Area which will prevent physical junction of the two principal enemies, and will probably keep China in the war.”

Then the “desirable” objectives:

“a. Security of Alaska.
b. Holding of bases west and southwest of Hawaii.
c. Security of Burma, particularly because of its influence on future Chinese action.
d. Security of South America south of Natal.
e. Security of Australia.
f. Security of bases on West African coast and trans-African air route.
g. Other areas useful in limiting hostile operations and facilitating our own.”

The studies then went into great detail the reasons for these objectives. Marshall was impressed, and that day took the Eisenhower Studies to Adm Ernest King, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and to FDR. They approved and Marshall would use the studies to deftly bludgeon the CCS into submission. Within a day, the Eisenhower Studies completely circumvented the JCS’ own staffs and committees, and became the official US Grand Strategy for the Second World War. Furthermore, they would be the basis for King to announce the “Germany First” policy to the world (that would demoralize the crews on Java). King, the greatest advocate for a “Japan First” policy, was chosen to announce the Germany First policy specifically to show solidarity. However, he was savvy enough to recognize the threat to Australia was much more immediate than any possible invasion of German occupied Europe in 1942, and he’d get a defacto Japan First policy anyway (he was right).

The proposed invasion of occupied France was covered under the “Retention of Russia” objective as “We should at once develop, in conjunction with the British, a definite plan for operations against Northwest Europe. It should be drawn up at once, in detail, and it should be sufficiently extensive in scale as to engage from the’ middle of May onward, an increasing portion of the German Air Force, and by late summer an increasing amount of his ground forces.” The invasion of Europe in 1942 made logical sense in that it synergized with several objectives: maintaining Russia, the UK, and the North Atlantic sea lanes. Moreover, Atlantic distances allowed for shipping, the Allies’ greatest limitation by far, three times more efficient. But it vastly underestimated the ability of the German Army to concentrate quickly at any point on the continent. Something that was not lost on Eisenhower’s soon-to-be good friend Winston Churchill, who received a nearly unedited copy of the Eisenhower Studies (along with the majority and minority opinions of the CCS, which he didn’t even read) on 5 March 1942, less than a week after Eisenhower submitted it to Marshall .

Churchill would eventually get his way, and with the exception of the proposed Allied invasion of Europe in 1942, the Eisenhower Studies would be the foundational document for Allied Grand Strategy for the next two years.

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