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The Man Who Planned The Victory
An Interview With Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer
October/november 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 6
Pretty darned accurate. Considering everyone who served in uniform at one time or another during World War II, I believe the total amounted to some 13 million. Our estimates were not correct in every category, however. In the effort to provide strong ground forces with great mobility and firepower, we estimated armored and mechanized divisions far in excess of the number that could possibly be maneuvered. Had we organized as suggested in the original Victory Plan, the mobility we sought would paradoxically have been sacrificed. Imagine a traffic jam of thousands of bumper-to-bumper vehicles on the battlefield!
Although war with the Axis came first in the Pacific area, didn’t the United States give first priority to Europe, in accordance with previous commitments?
By and large, yes, although Americans were mad as hell at the Japanese and wanted to fight them immediately. Revenge was the motive. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill directed, nonetheless, that Germany be defeated first. This meant that the war in the Pacific had to be restricted for the time being to strategically defensive operations, while the major effort was made in Europe. Building on the Victory Plan and other studies, the military staffs in Washington worked day and night to hammer out something specific. By April 1942 the American planners had developed some pretty firm ideas.
What were they?
We concluded that the Allies ought to strike at the industrial heart of Germany—the vulnerable source of her war-making potential—as soon as we could muster the strength to secure a lodgment on the Continent and exploit it. This implied careful conservation of our strength. It meant resisting the inevitable temptations to make ourselves comfortably secure here, there, and everywhere. It meant resisting the temptation to chase off after secondary objectives and, in the process, dissipate resources. Careful studies had convinced us that our best bet lay in an invasion of the Channel coast of France from the British Isles in the early summer of 1943. This seemed the course that promised a decisive victory at the least cost in time, casualties, and treasure.
Amphibious operations are inherently hazardous. Given the formidable capabilities of the German forces, the fact that Allied war production and troop mobilization would not yet have reached their peaks, and many other uncertainties—was not this plan awfully risky?
Everything in war is risky, and we had gone to no end of trouble in assessing those risks. Remember that in the winter of 1942–43 the bulk of the German ground and air forces were committed—perhaps irretrievably—far to the east in Soviet territory. Remember, too, that the heavy defenses along the coast of Western Europe—the Atlantic Wall—were not put in place until late 1943 and 1944.
But the invasion did not take place until June of 1944. What happened?
The Allies first had to agree on a broad scheme of maneuver, and on the employment of available forces. In April 1942, after we Americans got our plans worked out, I accompanied General Marshall and Harry Hopkins (President Roosevelt’s personal representative) on a trip to London to present our ideas to the British. That was quite a trip. We traveled under assumed names, for security reasons, in a large, four-engined flying boat that was routed by way of Bermuda to Northern Ireland. We made three formal presentations of our plans to military and political leaders, the last to the British War Cabinet. There was a lot of polite comment and questioning. On the whole we felt that the British had accepted our general proposals, or at least had found them compatible with their thinking. Prime Minister Churchill invited us out to his country home for the weekend and was very cordial.
Was this your first contact with Churchill?
It was my first real contact, and I found him a formidable personality. A physical, intellectual, and spiritual bulwark, if ever there was one. He was one of the few men in high position in whose presence I felt real trepidation when I had occasion (as I did later on) to stand up and differ with him. His mind was marvelously stocked with all sorts of knowledge and experience. He was a man of strong convictions, superbly articulate, powerfully persuasive. One didn’t challenge him lightly. On this occasion, however, we talked pleasantly after dinner of strategic plans, mobilization problems in the United States, and the Nazi leaders.
You mention standing up to Churchill and differing with him.