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COMPUTING THE REQUIREMENTS FOR WAR
THE LOGIC OF THE VICTORY PLAN OF 1941
by
Major Charles E. Kirkpatrick, USA
U.S. Army Center of Military History

The unspoken assumption that President Franklin Roosevelt and his principal military advisors shared in the early summer of 1941 was that the United States would, sooner or later, become involved in the expanding European war.1 Public opinion polls revealed that Americans also thought that war was inevitable, although the same polls showed that most citizens opposed an American declaration of war. Thus discussion of the possibility was a contentious political issue that occasionally verged on the hysterical, and a hazardous undertaking for any public figure.2 Yet it was the duty of the War and Navy Departments to plan for the worst contingencies, however politically unpalatable they might have been.

Assistant Secretary of War Robert Patterson,3 responsible for managing military procurement, including the demands of the Lend Lease program, first raised the question in April 1941, of how much military production the United States should plan for. Because it was evident that existing military plans would be inappropriate for the European war he envisioned, and wishing at all costs to avoid the chaotic mobilization that he had witnessed in 1917, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, welcomed Patterson's request for information and combined it with a similar request from President Roosevelt.4 Thus Marshall combined those requests with a question that had also been percolating within the War Department General Staff for some time.5

Marshall directed his War Plans Division to make a rough, strategic estimate that would include the nation's munitions requirements, not only for its own forces, but also for the almost insatiable demands of Lend Lease:

We are continually receiving suggestions as to increases and changes in armament, bombers, etc., along with suggestions of a more far-reaching nature. To provide a base of departure for meeting these proposals we should have a more clearcut strategic estimate of our situation from a ground, air, and naval viewpoint. With such an estimate kept up to date, the various organizational, tactical and strategical questions which are constantly arising could be answered with more consistency than at present. . . . Please contact other divisions of the WDGS and take the necessary steps to have an estimate prepared to be submitted to me in the rough. It should be brief.6

There was a problem of balance, from Marshall's point of view. "We must not create the situation that a year from now possible shortages will exist and we will find it necessary to say that we were sorry that we did not anticipate the true situation.7 By the same token, Marshall did not want to forward impossible demands to the Office of Production Management. He warned WPD that "We must not get a pile of stuff which "is not only obsolescent but blocks other things more essential."8

Marshall's directive was the origin of the Army's portion of the so-called Victory Plan, a joint Army-Navy production estimate of the services' needs in the event of total war.9 Brigadier General Leonard T. Gerow, chief of War Plans Division, entrusted the task to Major Albert C. Wedemeyer, an infantry officer who had been an exchange student at the German Kriegsakademie in Berlin and was recently assigned to WPD.10

Conventional wisdom holds that the Victory Plan was an important step forward for the Army because it looked at the problem of mobilizing for war from the point of view of the civilian economy, rather than the demands of military expansion. According to this view, manpower needs of industry took precedence over other considerations as the War Department shifted to a war footing, with the consequence that the author of the Victory Plan scrapped the normal military planning process. A second generalization sees the Victory Plan as a logistical estimate that was most important as it related to industrial production and manpower allocation.11 superficially correct, both of these conventional views about the Victory Plan understate the importance of that document and cloud understanding of its significance for the Army and the nation in the Second World War. A closer look at the first assertion about the planning process provides the context in which the second may be reconsidered.

The Planning Process

To deal with such an open-ended planning task, Wedemeyer analyzed the question to determine the information he had to gather. In order to deduce the nation's ultimate production requirements, he 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. He therefore established for himself a series of questions to answer in order to accomplish his task:

1) What is the national objective of the United States?

2) What military strategy will be devised to accomplish the national objective?

3) What military forces must be raised in order to execute that military strategy?

4) How will those military forces be constituted, equipped and trained?

His methodology implied that by the time he had answered the first three questions, he would have the information he needed to answer the last, which was the objective task was given.12

Thus his logistics estimate began with a survey of strategic factors. After careful study of the problems involved, Wedemeyer drafted a simple statement of national objectives and obtained the Secretary of War's agreement that he should proceed on the assumption that the United States meant 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.13

Proceeding from that general statement of political aims, he reviewed the relevant military plans and records of informal Anglo-American conferences and outlined a military strategy that was, in essence that followed by the Allies from 1942 through the end of the war.

Wedemeyer's brief sketch delineated, necessary American actions to keep the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union in the war while the United States built and trained its forces, mobilized a war economy, and built up a base in Great Britain for the eventual attack on Germany. 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, fight a major land, sea, and air war in one theater, and be sufficiently strong to deter war in the other. No other nation faced the task of building up its army, navy, and air forces to such standards, to meet such global commitments. Likewise, no other power had to rely upon lines of supply tenuously stretched across oceans, the control of which was still disputed, to bases that had still, in many cases, to be won.

The military strategy appropriate to attainment of the political goals thus dictated the military forces the nation would need. It was here that Wedemeyer first considered the question of manpower allocation. He realized that American economic power was as much a weapon of war as military forces, and that he had to reserve adequate skilled manpower to meet the demands of mobilization and lend lease, as well as to maintain the internal order of the society. Through various calculations he determined that the country could sustain armed forces of around twelve to fourteen million men without jeopardizing other essential war tasks.14

He then considered means to wage a war against the armed forces of the Axis that accommodated that limitation, and planned for an armored and mechanized army that, when used in conjunction with Allied air power, could concentrate decisive mass at any given point to defeat Axis forces. After designing an Army of 215 divisions that could accomplish the missions inherent in the overall national objective, Wedemeyer turned the entire planning document over to the G-4 staff for the mechanical computation of types and quantities of equipment for those divisions. The eventual calculations, combined into a joint study with Navy estimates, became the Joint Army and Navy Board's "Victory Program," and gave the War Department a basis on which to plan production requirements.

Clearly, the customary conclusion that Wedemeyer did not follow the usual military planning process, but began with available manpower, which he distributed in consonance with the nation's military objectives, is not correct. Manpower considerations were certainly prominent, but Wedemeyer began, not with the limiting factor of available forces, but with the greater question of the national goal. The critically important aspect of his planning process was that, after settling the strategic goals of the nation, he pursued the logical, rather than the usual, next question. Traditionally, that had been "What can the Army accomplish with the forces at its disposal?" Instead, he asked: "What sort of forces must the Army have to accomplish these missions?" So doing, he escaped the traditional constraints of budget and limited force structure, recognizing that the nation would not skimp on either if it came to war.

The number of men the services could extract from the civilian economy was a subsidiary question in force design, the third major step in his planning process. Conducting an analysis of the available manpower, he then decided upon the various ways that the Army could multiply the combat power of the divisions it could create. Indeed, fine calculations to distribute draft-age men between industry and the armed forces were largely moot, because neither the United States nor its allies could possibly raise large enough forces to attain the 2:1 numerical superiority over the Axis normally considered necessary.15 Regardless, therefore, of the size ground Army the nation could field, Wedemeyer had to find some way to rake an inferior force suffice. Superior mobility, superior firepower, and proper use of air power were the answers.16

The Victory Plan was therefore not based in the first instance on the industrial needs of the United States, nor did Wedemeyer's thought process begin with the civilian sector. He did not deviate from the strategic planning processes familiar to all of his colleagues in War Plans Division. It was nevertheless his awareness of the many valid wartime jobs for a limited pool' of high quality manpower that distinguished him from other mobilization planners. Aware of the importance of Lend Lease to the war effort and conscious that the Germans both feared and respected American economic power, he took special pains to avoid disrupting the industrial work force. Analysts of the Victory Plan therefore justifiably praise him for understanding that the needs of industry were as important as the needs of the Army.

The Import of the Victory Plan

In general terms, the Victory Plan was a remarkably prescient document. In 1941, Wedemeyer estimated that the Army Ground Forces and Army Air Forces would need a grand total of 8,795,658 men to fight the war. As the Army was attaining its peak strength in March of 1945, it had a total of 8,157,386 men in uniform -- very nearly the figure that Wedemeyer had estimated almost four years earlier. To have calculated the total manpower utilization with such precision is a superficially impressive achievement, although it might more properly be expressed the other way around. The Army eventually used almost exactly the amount of manpower Wedemeyer predicted because his assessment of the amount of available manpower was essentially correct, and the Army conceived and fought a style of war that observed that constraint.

In detail, however, the Victory Plan turned out to have many flaws. While correctly computing the total number of men available for the armed forces, Wedemeyer used a distribution formula that did not take account of the increasingly technological nature of warfare. The Army eventually required far more men for maintenance and logistical support than in the past, with the consequence that the combat edge was actually slightly smaller than that of the World War I Army, which had half its total strength. Rather than 215 divisions, the country eventually fielded 90 Army divisions. Similarly, Wedemeyer overestimated the number of mechanized and armored divisions that American industry could equip, especially when it was also building similar weapons for the Allies. The errors in detail, as it turned out, were not important. For purposes of production planning, the estimate was sufficient, despite errors that later became evident in the number and types of divisions the Army would create, to allow industrial planners to set up production lines for very large quantities of materiel, thereby establishing the industrial capacity the United States would need for the rest of the war. As a logistics estimate, the Victory Plan therefore served its purpose.17

Because of the context in which it was drafted, most discussions of the Victory Plan refer to it either as a mobilization plan or a logistics estimate. Secretary of War Stimson and General Marshall called it a study of production requirements for national defense, noting that the estimate of equipment had to proceed from certain strategic assumptions.18 Wedemeyer himself insisted that the Victory Plan was neither a strategic nor a tactical plan, although strategy provided the framework for estimating production requirements.19 What emerged from the Army's production estimate in the fall of 1941, however, was far more than a logistics plan, or even a mobilization plan.

The Victory Plan of 1941 was, although not many War Department staff officers realized it while it was being drafted, the blueprint both for the general mobilization of the United States Army for World War II and for the operational concept by which the United States would fight the war. The Victory Plan predicted the future organization for an army that did not yet exist, outlined combat missions for a war not yet declared, and computed war production requirements for industries that were still committed to peacetime manufacture. It did all of this with remarkable accuracy, considering that the intentions of the United States Government were anything but clear in 1941. Very few staff papers have ever had its prescience, its impact, or its far-reaching consequences. Fewer still have dealt so concisely, yet comprehensively, with grand strategic concepts.

After the United States accepted a role as a world power after World War I, it could no longer rely upon a single mobilization plan that mustered the resources of the nation just to defend the western hemisphere. The evolving national policy in 1941 made existing plans obsolete, leading to the hastily conceived Victory Plan. This case points out with particular clarity that no single mobilization plan could possibly serve all contingencies, especially when national policy was in the midst of change. The mission of the armed forces in 1941 changed in consonance with changes in national policy, and those changes demanded greater sophistication and flexibility in military plans. The War Department suddenly faced an international crisis that exceeded the scope of existing war plans, and the Victory Plan was one of the essential first steps in preparing the United States for a war beyond its shores. Wedemeyer's estimate demonstrated a realization that mobilization in the modern era was a complex and dynamic process in which plans had to strike many delicate and interlocking balances -- among them the proper balance between conflicting domestic and military manpower priorities and the correct balance between pure manpower and materiel as means of generating combat power. It was evident to the Wit Plans Division that all wars in the twentieth century were not alike, nor would they necessarily break out where most convenient for the defenders. Therefore rigid plans had to give way to flexible ones that accounted for contemporary circumstances. Thus the Victory Plan superseded the Protective Mobilization Plan of 1939.

The paper was remarkably concise: in only fourteen pages it laid out the strategic objectives of the United States in the event of war, stated American strategic military requirements for such a war, and developed and outlined the force structure to accomplish those tasks. It was therefore far more than just a mobilization plan or a logistics estimate. The victory Plan was a prism that reflected basic elements of successful military planning. It demonstrated that good planning could not be apportioned in discrete bits or exist solely as abstract calculations, but that each part had to be integrated with the provisions of every other part. The Victory Plan was in effect a comprehensive statement of American strategy that served as a fundamental planning document in preparing the country for war.

Broader Significance

All of these things were significant, but the single most important f act about the Victory Plan had nothing to do with its successes and failures, with the adept planning process by means of which it was written, or with the accuracy and discernment for which it has customarily been praised. Instead, the Victory Plan was important because it typified the outlook of General Marshall and the War Department General Staff, which was never occupied with purely military considerations, but wrote war plans that had a more mature focus.

The Victory Plan is evidence of the early meshing of political and military goals by the American military command structure, as demonstrated by military attention to the manpower needs of the civilian war economy; by military understanding that American economic power was itself a powerful military weapon; and by the delineation of military objectives that suited the national goals in the war. significantly, it demonstrated that the men responsible for outlining America's strategy in the war had a firm grip on all of the elements of national strategy, and that they never confused that national strategy with a purely military, and therefore subordinate, strategy. This, rather than any accounting of detailed successes and failures in what was, after all, only an initial draft and never an operational directive, represented the real genius and uniqueness of the Victory Plan. It reflected the broad consensus of American civil-military leaders on what had to be done and set the tone for future high-level planning in the War Department.

Wedemeyer's essential contribution to preparing America for war was that he had an intellect, a carefully educated and prepared intellect, that could grasp the numerous and diverse strands of politics, policy, strategy, and practical military applications and, understanding them, produce a document that reflected the commonly-held, but as yet unarticulated strategic vision of America's wartime leaders. When called upon to do so, he had the capacity to write a plan that took account of the contexts of the day: the restrictive and, at times, hostile domestic political environment; the mood of the nation; the condition of the armed forces; and the probable intentions of the nation's political leadership. Within that context, he had a sufficient grasp of the nature of total war to conceive of the military operations the country might be called upon to undertake, and a sufficient grasp of the profession of arms to propose an efficient and effective military organization to accomplish those missions. That, and not the relative successes and failures of the plan in its various details, is the final significance of Albert C. Wedemeyer's work in writing the Victory Plan of 1941.


END NOTES

1. Letter, H. L. Stimson to Editor, New York Times, 6 Mar 1939. On Stimson's viewpoint, see Henry L. Stimson, with McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York: Harper, 1947); Elting E. Morison, Turmoil and Tradition: The Life and Times of Henry L. Stimson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960). Stims6n's diary recorded a conversation as early as mid-December 1940 with secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, General George C. Marshall, and Admiral Harold Stark to the effect that "there was basic agreement among us all. . . . All four agreed that this emergency could hardly be passed over without this country being drawn into the war eventually." Stimson, On Active Service in War and Peace, p. 366.

2. Generalizations are based on surveys of the following standard works: Harold T. Butler, "Partisan Positions on Isolationism vs Internationalism, 1918-1933," unpublished Ph.D dissertation, Syracuse University, 1963; Thomas N. Guinsburg "Senatorial Isolationism in America, 1919-1941," unpublished Ph.D dissertation, Columbia University, 1969; Warren F. Kuehl, "Midwestern Newspapers and Isolationist Sentiment," Diplomatic History 3:3 (1979), pp. 283-306; Dexter Perkins, "The Department of State and American Public opinion," in Gordon A. Craig and Felix Gilbert, eds., The Diplomats, 1919-1939 (New York: Atheneum Press, 1953), Vol. I, pp. 282-308; Thomas A. Bailey, The Man in the Street (New York: Macmillan, 1964 reprint of 1948 edition); David H. Culbert, News for Everyman: Radio and Foreign Affairs in Thirties America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976); Jerome E. Edwards, The Foreign Policy of Col. McCormick's Tribune, 1929-1941 (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1971); Alfred O. Hero, Jr., Americans in World Affairs (Boston: World Peace Foundation, 1959). For statistics: "A Peace Policy for 1935," Christian Century LII (Jan 1935), p. 40; George Gallup and Claude Robinson, "American Institute of Public opinion -- Surveys, 1935-38," Public Opinion Quarterly, II (Jul 1938), p. 388, and subsequent issues of Public Opinion Quarterly.

3. Later Under Secretary.

4. Memorandum, Under Secretary of War Patterson to Secretary of War Stimson, 18 Apr 1941, Subj: Ultimate Munitions Production Essential to Safety of America, NARA, RG 165, File WPD 4494 and 4321-12; Pogue, Marshall, p. 140. Existing goals for production of munitions were neither sufficiently precise nor sufficiently long-range to suit the needs of Patterson, the G-4, and the office of Production Management. The intermediate goals had been established for munitions to support an Army of 2 million men at once and an ultimate force of 4 million (Munitions Program of 30 Jun 1940). But the end was not in sight, and procurement planners needed some sort of final target with which to work. Letter, President to the Secretary of War, 9 Jul 1941. Entry 234, box 498, Director of SS&P, G-4, NARA, RG 165, Numerical File 1921-Mar 1942, Document #33473.

5. Memorandun, Lieut. Col C. W. Bundy for Acting Assistant Chief of Staff, War Plans Division, 20 May 1941, Subj: Coordination of Planning and Supply, NARA, RG 165, File WPD 4321-12. Memorandum, Assistant Acting Assistant Chief of Staff War Plans Division, for Chief of Staff, 7 Jun 1941, Subj: Ultimate Munitions Production Essential to the Safety of America, NARA, RG 165, File WPD 4494. Also see memorandum, Gen. Gerow for Director, War Plans Division, OPNAV, 27 May 1941, NARA, RG 165, File WPD 4321-12.

6. Quoted in Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, pp. 335-36; see also Kreidberg and Henry, History of Military Mobilization, p. 620.

7. Quoted in Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations, p. 336.

8. Ibid.

9. The Army planning data, including estimates made by the planning section of the Air Corps, were combined as a joint study and, together with a similar estimate made by the Navy for Victory sea forces, turned over to the Joint Army Navy Board. The Joint Board approved the basic plan and forwarded it to the civilian production agencies in the government. The Office of Production Management eventually administered the entire production program. For the final, detailed production estimates, see Joint Board No. 355 (Serial 707), Army and Navy Estimate of United States Over-all Production Requirements, Sept 11, 1941, NARA, RG 225.

10. For a detailed analysis of the Victory Plan and more thorough discussion of sources, refer to this author's An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941 (Washington: GPO, 1990).

11. Discussions of the Victory Plan are concentrated in studies that address World War II logistics issues. The viewpoints summarized in this paragraph appear, in part or in whole, in various general histories of the war as well. These include: Marvin A. Kreidberg and Merton G. Henry, History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army 1775-1945 (Washington: Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-212, Jun 1955); Byron Fairchild and Jonathan Grossman, The Army and Industrial Manpower (Washington: GPO, 1959); Richard M. Leighton and Robert W. Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-1943 (Washington: GPO, 1959); David F. Trask, ed., "Historical Survey of U.S. Mobilization: Eight Topical Studies of the Twentieth Century" (Washington: USACMH unpublished typescript, n.d.); Ray S. Cline, Washington Command Post: The Operations Division (Washington: GPO, 1951); Maurice Matloff and Edwin M. Snell, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1941-1942 (Washington: GPO, 1953); Roland G. Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies (Washington: GPO, 1959); Mark S. Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations.

12. The entire discussion of the planning process is based upon: the Army's portion of the Victory Plan, contained in two documents, WPD Memorandum, Ultimate Requirements - Ground Forces, 23 Aug 1941, NARA, RG 165, entry 234, box 498, Director of SS&P, G-4 Numerical File 1921-Mar 1942, document #33473, and the later Ultimate Requirements Study. Estimate of Army Ground Forces (War Plans Division, GS), Sept 1941, folder WPD 4494-14/4494-19, NARA, RG 165; author's interviews with General A. C. Wedemeyer (24 Apr 1987, 5 May 1987, and 3 Jun 1987); and A. C. Wedemeyer, Wedemeyer Reports! (New York: Henry Holt, 1958).

13. Author's interview with General A. C. Wedemeyer, 24 Apr 1987.

14. For a detailed analysis of Wedemeyer's computations on manpower availability and troop strength requirements, refer to chapters 3 and 4, respectively, of An Unknown and Doubtful Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941.

15. For his assessments of the manpower limitations of the Alliance, see memorandum, Wedemeyer to Gerow, 9 Sept 1941, OPE Exec. #4, Item V, NARA, RG 165. Manpower, as Wedemeyer knew, was not everything. Citing a relevant case, he observed of the French defeat in 1940 that "Another million men in Flanders would not have turned the tide of battle for France." Estimate of Army Requirements, p. 8.

16. Estimate of Army Forces, p. 7. Wedemeyer derived his understanding of these issues from broad reading in military affairs and from his senior military schooling, above all at the German Kriegsakademie in 1934-1936, where the course of study emphasized mobile warfare, and where he, like his German peers, read the various works of J.P.C. Fuller. On this point, see the discussion on Wedemeyer's professional education in chapter 1 of An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941.

17. Analyses of the successes and failures of the Victory Plan are found in chapter 5 of An Unknown Future and a Doubtful Present: Writing the Victory Plan of 1941.

18. Press Conference Memorandum, Secretary of War Stimson, 11:45 a.m., 5 Dec 1941; and Statement by the chief of staff, re: Leak of Victory Plan (5 Dec 1941); both in File WPD 4494-20, NARA, RG 165.

19. Wedemever Reports!, pp. 63-65.


11 July 2003