In light of discussions last year over how well America can formulate and execute an overarching grand strategy, this new post by NerveAgent over at Visions of Empire provides an often overlooked example of successful grand strategy making within the United States. While the more prominent examples of Alexander Hamilton, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and George Frost Kennan are well-known and intensively studied, Albert Wedemeyer might be a better exemplar of the American grand strategist:
Albert Wedemeyer devised the U.S. Army’s World War II grand strategy, unit structure, equipment requirements, and general concept of operations…all in a period of about three months…A monograph by Charles Kirkpatrick recounts how Wedemeyer accomplished this, providing a nice case study on how strategy is formulated in the real world.
In 1941, the War Plans Division was tasked with calculating the nation’s total manufacturing requirements for the coming war. The assignment was given to then-Major (later General) Albert Wedemeyer, who had an office, a small staff, and about ninety days to complete the job.
Wedemeyer found his job was broader than he anticipated (from the monograph):
In order to deduce the nation’s ultimate production requirements, Wedemeyer concluded that the essential first task was to compute the size of the Army and Air Corps that the War Department would have to arm and equip. Size and composition of forces were functions of mission, however, and no one could estimate the size of military forces required without knowing the missions they would be ordered to execute. Missions depended upon military strategy, and in order to know the military strategy, Wedemeyer had first to know the national objective in the event of war…Wedemeyer therefore established for himself a series of questions to answer in order to accomplish his task:
- What is the national objective of the United States?
- What military strategy will be devised to accomplish the national objective?
- What military forces must be raised in order to execute that military strategy?
- How will those military forces be constituted, equipped, and trained?
Wedemeyer encountered the traditional headaches of the aspiring American grand strategist: America’s difficulty in enunciating a coherent strategic narrative (from the monograph):
To his surprise, Wedemeyer ascertained that the government seemed to have no mechanism whatever for considering such paramount national policy problems or for answering them systemically. To Wedemeyer, it appeared that few men in Washington were even conscious of the fact that “supreme issues of war and peace required thorough analysis in the top echelons of the national government.” Government planning was short-term planning, aimed at accomplishing immediate goals, of which the ad hoc executive decision on the destroyers-for-bases deal was typical. Long-range planning to determine war goals for a peace favorable to the national interests of the United States seemed to be no one’s task. In 1941, few American leaders looked beyond the problem of militarily defeating future enemies…
After some inconclusive interviews with U.S. foreign policy officials, including Henry Stimson, Wedemeyer came up with this mission statement: “to eliminate totalitarianism from Europe and, in the process, to be an ally of Great Britain; further, to deny the Japanese undisputed control of the western Pacific.”
The following question of military strategy identified Germany as the enemy to defeat first, but U.S. options were constrained by the issue of timing. In 1941, U.S. war planners were deathly afraid that Russian resistance would soon collapse, leaving Germany in control of Mackinder’s Eurasian “heartland.” If that happened, Germany would require about two years to stabilize and exploit its conquests and reconstitute its military capabilities for an invasion of the British Isles. Because the U.S. would require almost as much time to fully mobilize, Wedemeyer had to assume the worst case scenario of America continuing the war against Germany alone.
According to Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction, Hitler had a morbid fear of U.S. mobilization. In 1940, he calculated that it would take two years for the U.S. to fully mobilize. Initially, Hitler’s fear was that U.S. mobilization, even as a neutral, would supply Britain and France with so many weapons that Germany would be overwhelmed, repeating the triple combination that defeated Imperial Germany in 1918. After France’s defeat in 1940, he still feared that a full U.S. mobilization would still crush Germany though its British and Russian puppets (since FDR and America, of course, were puppets of the World Jewish Conspiracy™). It was to avert this possibility that he struck against Russia, assuming it would collapse in a few months. Wedemeyer, who had studied at the German war college in the late 1930s, may have picked up on this theme.
Wedemeyer identified three prerequisites for achieving his grand strategy:
- “[G]ain control of the oceans, the only way that U.S. power could be projected outside the hemisphere: “Without the ability to transport military formations in security and to maintain the lines of supply needed to keep them in action, all other propositions became meaningless.” A powerful navy and a substantial merchant fleet were prerequisites.”
- “[A]ir superiority, which would be a critical force multiplier against the superb German military, and would allow strategic bombardment to reduce the enemy’s industrial capacity and undermine the fabric of his society.”
- “[A] network of encircling forward bases close to the European theater from which to launch operations against Germany.”
Wedemeyer then put strategic meat on them bones:
…Wedemeyer saw that the United States and the Allies had to weaken the enemy by overextending and dispersing his armies. Concentration of forces brought victory. If the Allies could so threaten the Axis that it had to send reinforcements in many directions, then the eventual decisive attack would inevitably succeed, because the enemy could meet it with only a portion of his total strength. Attacks on enemy supplies of fuel and matériel and, most particularly, his transportation net, contributed to this end. Deterioration of the enemy’s national will on the home front might result from propaganda, subversion, deprivation of a reasonable standard of living, destruction of the fabric of the enemy’s society, and the chaos and public disorder that accompany such domestic conditions. Strategic bombing, planners expected, would attack the German national will just as it attacked the German industry and economy. Civilian and economic chaos would, in turn, diminish the effectiveness of the German military forces.
In sum, the United States had to adopt a military strategy that placed the bulk of American combat forces in contact with the enemy in the European theater. In order to accomplish this, the United States had to build and maintain armed forces capable of controlling the sea lanes of communications in two oceans; to fight a major land, sea, and air war in one theater; and to be sufficiently strong to deter war in the other.
Wedemeyer formulated his grand strategy but then faced the ultimate barrier: politics:
Wedemeyer’s report was incorporated into a larger document that became known as the Victory Program. Of course, not all of its precepts were implemented by the United States; as the old cliché goes, no plan survives first contact with the enemy (or with U.S. politicians). But it was an important point of departure for U.S. planning in the early years of the war, and it filled a strategy vacuum that had existed in a nation that retained strong isolationist sentiments.
Wedemeyer’s plan became part of FDR’s grand strategy in an unexpected way. On December 4th, 1941, three days before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the Victory Program was leaked to the Chicago Tribune. As Thomas Fleming describes it:
Blazoned in huge black letters across page one of the December 4, 1941, issue of the Chicago Tribune was the headline: F.D.R.’S WAR PLANS! The Times Herald, the Tribune’s Washington, D.C., ally, carried a similarly fevered banner. In both papers Chesly Manly, the Tribunes Washington correspondent, revealed what President Franklin D. Roosevelt had repeatedly denied: that he was planning to lead the United States into war against Germany. The source of the reporter’s information was no less than a verbatim copy of Rainbow Five, the top-secret war plan drawn up at FDR’s order by the Joint Board of the Army and Navy.
Manly’s story even contained a copy of the President’s letter ordering the preparation of the plan. The reporter informed the Tribune and Times Herald readers that Rainbow Five called for the creation of a ten-million-man army, including an expeditionary force of five million men that would invade Europe to defeat Hitler. To all appearances the story was an enormous embarrassment to a President who when he ran for a third term in 1940 had vowed that he would never send American boys to fight in a foreign war.
Wedemeyer was certainly affected:
“If I live to be a hundred,” [Wedemeyer] told me when I interviewed him in the spring of 1986, “December fifth, 1941, will still seem like yesterday.” Although only a major in the War Plans Division, Wedemeyer had already been tabbed by his superiors as a man with a bright future. In 1936 they had sent him to Germany, where he spent two years studying at the German War College in Berlin. When Roosevelt ordered the preparation of Rainbow Five, the forty-four-year-old major was given the task of writing it.General Wedemeyer, still erect and mentally alert, recalled the atmosphere he encountered when he walked into the Munitions Building at 7:30 A.M. on December 5. “Officers were standing in clumps, talking in low tones. Silence fell, and they dispersed the moment they saw me. My secretary, her eyes red from weeping, handed me a copy of the Times Herald with Manly’s story on the front page. I could not have been more appalled and astounded if a bomb had been dropped on Washington.”
His civilian boss, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, declared that the man who had leaked Rainbow Five was “wanting in loyalty and patriotism,” and so were the people who had published it. Wedemeyer was summoned to the office of John McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War. He was not invited to sit down. He therefore stood at attention. “Wedemeyer,” McCloy said, “there’s blood on the fingers of the man who leaked this information.”
[…]Later in this tumultuous morning two FBI agents appeared in Wedemeyer’s office and examined the contents of his safe. Their eyes widened when they discovered a copy of the Victory Program with everything that had appeared in the newspapers underlined. The sweating Wedemeyer explained that he had just done the underlining to get a clear idea of how much had been revealed. The two agents began an interrogation of Wedemeyer and other Army and Navy officers that continued for months.
Several Army staff officers said they strongly suspected Wedemeyer of being the leaker. An anonymous letter, obviously written by an insider and addressed to the Secretary of War, accused him and [his father-in-law] General Embick. Wedemeyer’s prospects grew even bleaker when the FBI discovered he had recently deposited several thousand dollars in the Riggs National Bank in Washington. He explained it was an inheritance and went on manfully to admit to the FBI that he knew Gen. Robert E. Wood, Charles A. Lindbergh, and other leaders of America First and agreed with some of their views. He often attended America First meetings, although never in uniform.
Agents hurried to Nebraska, the general’s home state, to investigate his German origins. They were somewhat befuddled to discover his German-born grandfather had fought for the Confederacy. His Irish-American mother was interrogated and called him long distance to ask him what in the world he had done. She thought he was in danger of being shot at sunrise. General Wedemeyer smiles when he tells the story now, but in 1941 he found nothing about his ordeal amusing.
Fleming’s suspect who did the actual leaking is not who you’d expect:
Who leaked Rainbow Five? General Wedemeyer survived the investigation unscathed and went on to high command. He attributes a good part of his salvation to his innocence. But he admits that Gen. George Marshall’s trust in him, which never wavered, also had a lot to do with it.In the ensuing years a good deal of information has surfaced. We now know that the man who passed Rainbow Five to Chesly Manly was Sen. Burton K. Wheeler. In his memoirs Wheeler says he got the plan from an Army Air Corps captain. Senator Wheeler’s son, Edward Wheeler, a Washington attorney, recalls that the captain told his father, “I’m only a messenger.” The same captain had come to Wheeler earlier in the year to feed him secret information about the appalling weakness of the U.S. Air Force. Senator Wheeler never had any doubt, his son says, that the man who sent the messenger was Gen. Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, the chief of the Army Air Corps.
In 1963 Frank C. Waldrop published an article recalling his memories of the big leak. He told of having lunch after the war with the FBI man who had directed the investigation. The agent told him the bureau had solved the case within ten days. The guilty party was “a general of high renown and invaluable importance to the war.” His motive was to reveal the plan’s “deficiences in regard to air power.”
In a recent interview Waldrop added some significant details to this story. The FBI man was Louis B. Nichols, an assistant director of the bureau. Waldrop asked him, “Damn it, Lou, why didn’t you come after us?” Waldrop and everyone else at the Times Herald and the Tribune had hoped that the government would prosecute. They had a lot of information about the way the White House was tapping their telephones and planting informants in their newsrooms that they wanted to get on the record. Nichols replied, “When we got to Arnold, we quit.”
Murray Green, General Arnold’s official biographer, has vigorously disputed Arnold’s guilt. He maintained that all available evidence shows Arnold supported Rainbow Five, which did not, contrary to the imputation, scant a buildup of American air power. Even more significant in Green’s opinion was General Arnold’s continuing friendship with General Marshall. If the FBI had found Arnold guilty, Marshall would certainly have been told. The virtue Marshall valued above all others was loyalty. It was inconceivable to Green that Marshall could ever have trusted or worked with Arnold again. Forrest Pogue, General Marshall’s biographer, seems inclined to agree with this judgment.
The twelve hundred pages of the FBI investigation, made available to this writer under the Freedom of Information Act, are an ironic counterpoint to what Nichols told Waldrop. A memorandum summarizing the investigation, sent to the Attorney General with a covering letter from Director Hoover, on June 17, 1942, concluded: “Owing to the number of copies [there were thirty-five copies of Rainbow Five distributed to the Army, Navy, and Army Air Corps] and the several hundred Army and Navy officers and civilian employees in both the War and Navy Departments having legitimate access thereto, it has not been possible to determine the source….”
A wild card explanation of the mystery emerged in 1976. In William Stevenson’s book A Man Called Intrepid, about the British spy William Stephenson, the author asserted that the leak was conceived and orchestrated by Intrepid as part of his plan to bring America into the war on Britain’s side. “The Political-Warfare Division of the BSC [British Security Coordination, the secret group that Intrepid led, with President Roosevelt’s knowledge and cooperation] concocted the Victory Program out of material already known to have reached the enemy in dribs and drabs and added some misleading information,” Stevenson wrote. On November 26 James Roosevelt, the President’s son, supposedly told Intrepid that the Japanese negotiations had collapsed and war was inevitable. The Army Air Corps captain was sent to Wheeler with the supposedly fake document to create a newspaper story that would provoke Hitler into a declaration of war.
The only verifiable fact in this version is the date, November 26,1941. That was indeed the day on which negotiations with Japan broke down. But it is clear from the reaction of Stimson and others in the War Department that they did not regard Rainbow Five as material already known to the enemy. The rest of Intrepid’s story must be dismissed as fabrication.
Nevertheless, Stephenson’s story suggests in a murky way the identity of the man who may have engineered the leak. “I have no hard evidence,” General Wedemeyer told me, “but I have always been convinced, on some sort of intuitional level, that President Roosevelt authorized it. I can’t conceive of anyone else, including General Arnold, having the nerve to release that document.”
Roosevelt’s motives, according to Fleming, was to goad Hitler into declaring war. If this is true, it certainly helped the grand strategy FDR pursued:
On December 5 the German Embassy had cabled the entire transcript of the story to Berlin. There it was reviewed and analyzed as the “Roosevelt War Plan.”While his military advisers were digesting it, Hitler wrestled with an immense political decision. Should he declare war on the United States? The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor surprised him as much as it surprised Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Tripartite Pact signed by the Axis powers in 1940 had never been supplemented by specific agreements about coordinating their war aims. The German foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had promised Hiroshi Oshima, the Japanese ambassador to the Third Reich, that Germany would support Japan if it became embroiled with the United States. But neither he nor Hitler envisioned the kind of aggressive assault launched by Japan at Pearl Harbor. Oshima urged Ribbentrop to make good on his promise. Hitler’s reaction to Pearl Harbor made it clear that he had no overwhelming sense of obligation to declare war as a result of Ribbentrop’s unauthorized assurances.
Theretofore one of Hitler’s basic strategies had been to keep the United States out of the war by getting all possible leverage out of the strong isolationist sentiment in Congress and elsewhere. Even after Roosevelt had issued orders to American warships to “shoot on sight” at German submarines, Hitler had ordered Grand Adm. Erich Raeder, the navy’s commander in chief, to avoid incidents that Roosevelt might use to bring America into the struggle. After the war Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Hitler’s chief planner, said that Hitler had wanted Japan to attack Great Britain in the Far East and the U.S.S.R. but not the United States. Hitler had wanted “a strong new ally without a strong new enemy.”
On December 8,1941, President Roosevelt seemed to confirm the wisdom of Hitler’s policy in his speech to Congress, calling for a declaration of war against Japan. Condemning the attack on Pearl Harbor as a “day of infamy,” FDR did not so much as mention Germany. Most historians agree that in the wake of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt could not have persuaded Congress to declare war on Germany. The nation’s rage was focused on Japan.
On December 6, just before Japan launched its attack, Admiral Raeder became a major player in the Reich chancellor’s global decision. He submitted to Hitler a report prepared by his staff that pointed with particular urgency to the most important revelation contained in Rainbow Five: the fact that the United States would not be ready to launch a military offensive against Germany until July 1943.
Raeder argued that this necessitated an immediate re-evaluation of Germany’s current strategy. He recommended an offensive on land and sea against Britain and its empire to knock them out of the war before this crucial date. He envisaged further incidents between American naval vessels and German submarines in the North Atlantic and admitted that this could lead to war with the United States. But he argued that Rainbow Five made it clear that America was already a “nonbelligerent” ally of Great Britain and the Soviet Union and that a declaration of war was no longer something Germany should seek to avoid by restraining its U-boats. Moreover, Raeder concluded that Roosevelt had made a serious miscalculation “in counting upon Japanese weakness and fear of the United States” to keep Nippon at bay. He was now confronted with a Japanese war two or three years before the completion of a two-ocean navy.
On December 9 Hitler returned to Berlin from the Russian front and plunged into two days of conferences with Raeder, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (usually referred to as the OKW), and Reich Marshal Herman Goring, the commander of the air force. The three advisers stressed the Victory Program’s determination to defeat Germany. They pointed out that it discussed the probability of a Russian collapse and even a British surrender, whereupon the United States would undertake to carry on the war against Germany alone.
Meanwhile on December 9, Franklin D. Roosevelt made another address to the nation. It accused Hitler of urging Japan to attack the United States. “We know that Germany and Japan are conducting their military and naval operations with a joint plan,” Roosevelt declared. “Germany and Italy consider themselves at war with the United States without even bothering about a formal declaration.”
This was anything but the case, and Roosevelt knew it. He was trying to bait Hitler into declaring war. On December 10, when Hitler resumed his conference with Raeder, Keitel, and Göring, the Führer’s mind was made up. He said that Roosevelt’s speech confirmed everything in the Tribune story. He considered the speech a de facto declaration of war, and he accepted Raeder’s contention that the war with Japan made it impossible for the Americans to follow the grand strategy of defeating Hitler first that had been laid down in Rainbow Five.
On December 11 Hitler went before the Reichstag and announced that Germany and Italy had been provoked “by circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt” to declare war on the United States. His final decision, Hitler said, had been forced on him by American newspapers, which a week before had revealed “a plan prepared by President Roosevelt … according to which his intention was to attack Germany in 1943 with all the resources of the United States. Thus our patience has come to a breaking point.”
With a little extra prodding from the White House, the Tribune story had handed Roosevelt the gift that he desperately needed to proceed with the program outlined in Rainbow Five.
Wedemeyer was also involved in the largest American grand strategic blunder of the twenty-first century (even though it happened in the twentieth):
In July 1947, President Harry S. Truman sent Lieutenant-General Wedemeyer to China and Korea to examine the “political, economic, psychological and military situations.” The result was the “Wedemeyer Report,” in which Wedemeyer stressed the need for intensive U.S. training of and assistance to the Nationalist armies.
Fearful the Nationalists may rise to challenge US hegemony in the Far East, President Truman not only rejected the recommendations in the report, but imposed an arms embargo against the Nationalist government, thereby intensifying the bitter political debate over the role of the United States in the Chinese civil war. While Secretary of State George C. Marshall had hoped that Wedemeyer could convince Chiang Kai-shek to institute those military, economic, and political reforms necessary to defeat the Communists, he accepted Truman’s views, and suppressed publication of Wedemeyer’s report, further provoking resentment by pro-Nationalist and/or anti-communist advocates both inside and outside the U.S. government and the armed forces.
After the fall of China to Communist forces, General Wedemeyer would testify before Congress that while the loss of morale was indeed a cause of the defeat of the Nationalist Chinese forces, the Truman administration’s 1947 decision to discontinue further training and modernizing of Nationalist forces, the U.S.-imposed arms embargo, and constant anti-Nationalist sentiment expressed by Western journalists and policymakers were primary causes of that loss of morale. In particular, Wedemeyer stressed that if the U.S. had insisted on experienced American military advisers attached at the lower battalion and regimental levels of Nationalist armies (as it had done with Greek army forces during the Greek Civil War), that aid could have more efficiently been utilized, and that the immediate tactical assistance would have resulted in Nationalist armies performing far better in combat against the Communist Chinese.
Read NerveAgent’s post Strategy Applied: Gen. Albert Wedemeyer and the Victory Plan of 1941. Read Charles Kirkpatrick’s monograph An Unknown Future and A Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941. The Wedemeyer Report is also interesting reading.
Cross-posted on the Committee of Public Safety.