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Liveblogging World War II: July 2, 2014: Anvil/Dragoon

Ljubljana Google MapsFrom Winston Churchill: Triumph and Tragedy:

On June 23 General Eisenhower advised the Combined Chiefs of Staff to concentrate our forces in direct support of the decisive battle in Northern France. He admitted that an advance through the Ljubljana Gap might contain German troops, but it would not draw any of their divisions from France. As for a descent in the Bay of Biscay, he agreed that Bordeaux was closer to the United States than Marseilles, but maintained that the latter could be captured more quickly by forces already in the Mediterranean, and would furnish a direct route northwards to join in the battle for the Ruhr. He therefore urged that “Anvil” should be undertaken, at the expense of course of our armies in Italy, since “in my view the resources of Great Britain and the United States will not permit us to maintain two major theatres in the European war, each with decisive missions”.

We were all agreed that “Overlord” took priority; the point was how the armies in the second theatre, Italy, could best help to overthrow Germany. The American Chiefs of Staff strongly supported Eisenhower. They condemned what they called the “commitment of Mediterranean resources to large-scale operations in Northern Italy and into the Balkans”. Our own Chiefs of Staff took the opposite view.....

Mr. Roosevelt contended that a landing in the Bay of Biscay would be a waste of shipping. If Eisenhower wanted more troops they were ready in the United States and he had only to ask for them. But it was his objections to a descent on the Istrian 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 he called a campaign “in the Balkans”. He claimed that Alexander and Smuts, “for several natural and very human reasons”, were inclined to disregard two vital considerations. First, the operation infringed “the grand strategy”. Secondly, it would take too long and we could probably not deploy more than six divisions. “I cannot agree,” he wrote, “to the employment of United States troops against Istria and into the Balkans, nor can I see the French agreeing to such use of French troops…. 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.”

No one involved in these discussions had ever thought of moving armies into the Balkans; but Istria and Trieste were strategic and political positions, which, as he saw very clearly, might exercise profound and widespread reactions, especially after the Russian advances. The President suggested at one point that we should lay our respective cases before Stalin. I said I did not know what he would say if the issue were put to him to decide. On military grounds he might have been greatly interested in the eastward movement of Alexander’s army, which, without entering the Balkans, would profoundly affect all the forces there, and which, in conjunction with any attacks Stalin might make upon Roumania or with Roumania against Transylvania, might produce the most far-reaching results. On a long-term political view he might prefer that the British and Americans should do their share in France in the very hard fighting that was to come, and that East, Middle, and Southern Europe should fall naturally into his control.

But I felt it was better to settle the matter for ourselves and between ourselves. I was sure that if we could have met, as I so frequently proposed, we should have reached a happy agreement. On July 2 the President declared that he and his Chiefs of Staff were still convinced that “Anvil” should be launched at the earliest possible date, and he asked us to direct General Wilson accordingly. He said that at Teheran he had only contemplated a series of raids in force in Istria if the Germans started a general retirement from the Dodecanese and Greece. But this had not happened yet. “Therefore,” he concluded, “I am compelled by the logic of not dispersing our main efforts to a new theatre to agree with my Chiefs of Staff. “I honestly believe that God will be with us as He has in ‘Overlord’ and in Italy and in North Africa. I always think of my early geometry—‘a straight line is the shortest distance between two points’.”

For the time being I resigned myself, and the same day General Wilson was ordered to attack the south of France on August 15. Preparations began at once, but the reader should note that “Anvil” was renamed “Dragoon”. This was done in case the enemy had learnt the meaning of the original code-word...