Command Decision, Chapter 1 Germany First

Command Decision, Chapter 1 Germany First

Command Decision
Chapter 1  Germany First: The Basic Concept Of Allied Strategy In World War II by Louis Morton

The following are points in the book that I found to some degree surprising and interesting.  Actually, I have never read about how war plans are drawn up so this book was of interest for that reason alone.   Beyond reading how the war plan process evolved another layer of very interesting insights were written about that I have never been exposed to.  Below, I share most of my surprise reading moments.

The Color Plans, 1919 – 1938

Just after World War I, “of all the powers in Europe only Great Britain was theoretically in a position to engage the United States in a war with any prospect of success.” (P13)  Actually, military planners contemplated Great Britain (once again) being our enemy?

Very early on the United States recognized Japan as a possible enemy. (P14)  This threat was repeated over and over in this chapter in language that almost pushed this as a certain outcome.

Defense of the Philippines in case of war with Japan was virtually impossible (P14).  This idea was repeated over and over in following pages.

War Plan Orange made no provision for landing on the Japanese home islands but to use  “isolation and harassment”. (P14 & 15).  It was also a bit shocking to read that our military  realized that we would have to retreat to win.

Strategic Adjustment 1938 – 1940

Germany and Italy are mentioned as pending problems in addition to Japan.  For me the mention of Italy so early in the military planning was not expected.  (P20 – ).

Five rainbow plans were drawn up with or without help from other nations.  The very idea that the United States planners thought we might have to take on both Japan and the Axis powers alone was a surprise. (P24).  Good planning requires one to consider all possible situations but just reflecting upon the possibility of the United States going it totally alone was shocking to read.

The Critical Summer of 1940

There was a back and forth view that the if the United States was attacked that we would withdraw arms support to Great Britain.  (P29)

It was the President of the United States that felt that Great Britain would not be defeated quickly and should be supported.  (P30).  For me, seeing a politician seemingly overriding his military for a better outcome was very interesting. (P31).

The US military sent observers over to England and quickly reported back that they were impressed with the country’s  resolve. (P32).

A slightly shocking read came when the British did not ask for active help from the United States but only material support (P33).

Shift to the Atlantic, September 1940 – January 1941

It was stated before but I mention it here that the United States was to avoid conflict with Japan but “maintain American interests and defend American possessions in the Far East”. (P34)  I was never made aware of our attitude toward Japan just prior to the war.

It was mildly interesting how the British kept insisting that the Americans put forces into Singapore “in any way convenient” but the Americans felt doing so served the interests of England and we were doing their dirty work for them. (P34, 35, 38).

“Plan Dog” was named because it was in paragraph “D” of a much longer document.  It predicted that American security depended upon what happened to Great Britain and if she won against Germany we could win everywhere else (implying Italy and Japan). (P 35)  This prediction was in a plan drawn up by Admiral Stark.  He also seemed to predict American troops needed to help in Europe. (P36).  He also down played the defeat of Japan.  The conquest of Europe was way more important. (P36 – 37).  This plan seemed to fit perfectly into both nations understanding and was adopted but not yet by the President.

A War Council was convened and the President felt the chances of going to war with Japan, “one chance in five”.  The President felt there should be no curtailment of aid to Britain even if we were attacked in the Pacific.  Over and over again there is consideration that the United States protect Latin America and it is sated again in this meeting. (P40).

A surprise, for me, was to read that the Commander of the Asiatic Fleet based in the Philippines could exercise discretionary authority to withdraw if attacked. (P40).

The Decision Is Made

A final war planning report known as the ABC-1 really spelled out that defeating Germany and Italy was of the highest priority and Japan was noted as not being of equal importance. This seemed to me to imply that a stalling game was in order toward Japan, if war was to break out. (P42).

The British once again promoted the importance of Singapore and the United States had written off the Philippines. (P43, 44) I really need to study why Singapore needed defending and the Philippines was not a candidate for defense.  One factor was that the United States was “willing to face temporary loss of strategic positions like the Philippines  and to risk substantial casualties initially rather than disperse their forces or adopt a purely defensive or delaying strategy.” (P43).

The United States wanted to avoid a long drawn out war and adjusted their planning to end the war quickly.  (P43).  This was a bit of a surprise that the military planners saw this as a doable option for them when Germany and possibly Japan were in attack mode.  I had thought that the Allies were forced to react to events as they happened and could only later counter.

Another subtle surprise but made total sense was that both the United States and Great Britain would see to their own self interests and cooperate together when those interests were the same. (P44).

All of a sudden, the book reports that when British and American delegates drew up cooperation guidelines that “… maintenance of British and allied positions in the Mediterranean area” were agreed upon strategic objectives.  I must have missed this concern in prior pages or did this just pop up?  This report had to be sent up the chain of command for approval. (P45).  Note that Rainbow 5 situation and ABC-1 requirements seemed to match (P45, P46).  I found reading the Rainbow 5 bullet points seemed to be close to what I remember actually taking place during WWII.  I have to congratulate the people who did the military planning over the many years and coming up with reasonable alternative plans to respond to a military attack.

Hidden in a long sentence was “the British Commonwealth (less Eire) …”.  I had no idea that Ireland (Eire) was neutral during the second world war. (P45).

A really nifty explanation of this whole process of guessing the planning process outlined above was put forth in almost a smart ass way by an Army planner: “A plan must be formulated upon a situation and no prediction of the situation which will exist when such a plan can be implemented should be made.” (P46).  [Sounds like something that  Donald Rumsfeld would say.)

A rather curious statement was made on page 46.  The statement put forth that “Rainbow 5 was neither a blueprint for victory nor a plan of operations.”  It was only an objective and missions for more specific plans.  Rainbow 5 was a broad overview of what next needed to be drawn up and the President needed to approve which he did not.  Instead he asked for two war plans. (P46).

Because the President had not approved nor disapproved Rainbow 5 the Army would go ahead and plan out of what was stipulated in Rainbow 5.  That was gutsy and smart of the Army but what followed was a bit of a shock for me (P47 last page of chapter):

Concentrate defense:

  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Panama

Writing off as a potential loss:

  • Philippines
  • Wake
  • Guam


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