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Germany First!

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Churchill & Roosevelt chat among the Combined Chiefs, Quebec Conference 1943

The First Washington Conference (codenamed Arcadia) concluded today in 1942, the results of which would affect the rest of the war and the way it was fought. Basically a meeting between Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt, the conference resulted in the doctrine of fighting “Germany First.” This wasn’t very popular with the American public who clamored for war with Japan—not Germany—after the Pearl Harbor attack the month before.

However, Hitler had declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941, so war with Germany was a foregone conclusion. Great Britain, our main ally, was obviously threatened by Germany much more so than Japan, and had already spent two years’ worth of resources fighting the Nazis. The possibility of losing Great Britain and the Soviet Union to Germany would mean having no Allies with which to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. Churchill and Roosevelt therefore agreed to continue to allocate the bulk of their manpower and equipment to Europe first, and once Germany and Italy were under control, to shift the Allied focus to the Pacific War. Much of this plan originated with Admiral Harold Stark’s visionary “Plan Dog” memo of 1940, which foresaw a two-front war and the difficulties associated with it. In reality, the war in the Pacific was fought just as hard and arguably at a higher cost than the war in Europe.

Another important outcome of the Arcadia Conference was the development of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The American Joint Chiefs (a new group formed to mirror the British Chiefs of Staff) would work in conjunction with the British Chiefs to make important strategic decisions, mainly regarding combat Europe but also affecting strategy in the Pacific and CBI, as well as the armed forces of other countries. It was the platform through which Army and Navy leadership coordinated.

 This post by curator Meg Roussel

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