14

If Britain had surrendered during World War II (eg. during the May 1940 crisis), what was the American plan for defeating Germany? Without the British Islands as a staging area, an amphibious assault such as happened at Normandy would be far more difficult.

I know there has to have been a plan since, for example, the B-36 bomber was designed for the purpose of attacking targets in Germany from bases in North America. That B-36 is also pretty good evidence that they weren't just going to dust off War Plan Black, since it doesn't have a place in that plan.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – sempaiscuba Aug 6 at 19:22
  • 2
    The question that needs to be answered before this one can even be addressed is whether the US would have gone to war with Germany (or Germany with the US) if Britain had surrendered or made peace prior to Pearl Harbor. – jamesqf Aug 7 at 3:25
  • 2
    @jamesqf, no, it doesn't. Most militaries make plans for wars they don't expect to fight: see, for example War Plan Red (US invasion of Canada during the interwar period) and Defense Scheme No. 1 (Canadian plan for countering same). If you were to look at the US military's archives right now, I expect you'll find plans for wars with everywhere from Abkhazia to Zimbabwe, plus serious plans for dealing with extraterrestrial threats. – Mark Aug 7 at 4:40
  • 1
    It's not commonly talked about, but we conducted a nearly simultaneous invasion through Sicily based from Africa. The mafia helped us plan and coordinate it. We'd just have come up through Italy instead of through France. – Hosch250 Aug 13 at 18:00
16

During 1938-39, the US military started making a new set of plans for possible war scenarios. These were the Rainbow series, as follows:

  • Rainbow 1. To prevent violation of the Monroe Doctrine, and to protect the United States, its possessions, and its sea trade.
  • Rainbow 2. To carry out No. 1, and also to sustain the authority of democratic powers in the Pacific zones.
  • Rainbow 3. To secure control of the western Pacific.
  • Rainbow 4. To afford hemisphere defense, through sending U. S. task forces if needed to South America, and to the eastern Atlantic.
  • Rainbow 5. To achieve the purposes of 1 and 4, also to provide ultimately for sending forces to Africa or Europe in order to effect the decisive defeat of Germany or Italy or both. This plan assumed U. S. co-operation with Great Britain and France

Those are from The Chief of Staff - Prewar Plans and Preparations volume of the US Army's official history of WWII, which can be freely downloaded here. It explains further:

The first four plans were eventually set aside. Numbers 2 and 3 (never fully developed in detailed planning) were formally canceled by the Joint Board on 6 August 1941, by which time the recognition of Germany as the principal foe made this cancellation obligatory. Although formal cancellation of Numbers 1 and 4 did not take place until 4 May 1942, much that they contemplated, such as the taking over of British bases (by the old-destroyer transfer of 3 September 1940) and the progressive use of Atlantic sea patrols, was in effect long before Pearl Harbor. Rainbow 1 and 4 were rendered obsolete by the fact that their major premise was not fulfilled—that is, Britain's naval power was not neutralized, and hence American's problem of hemisphere defense was not thus magnified. Contemporaneously with the American-British Staff Conversations (ABC) of early 1941, Rainbow 5 was expanded into War Department Operation Plan, Rainbow 5, and War Department Concentration Plan, Rainbow 5, (and corresponding programs of naval responsibility). This grand composite was the basic plan in readiness when war actually came in December 1941, the program having been continuously restudied and amplified in the light of co-ordination with British plans. By that time it specified the exact activities contemplated for protecting coasts and bases and for offensive operations overseas, but it had been modified little in fundamental concept since its drafting.

A later volume in the series, Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-43, downloadable here, has an account of the ABC-1 talks between the British and American chiefs of staff in January 1941. There's a very revealing quote on p. 54:

As to how Germany was finally to be defeated, the American staff had as yet no definite ideas. Admiral Stark's hints, the preceding November, of massive land operations in Europe had aroused little enthusiasm among the Army planners, particularly his suggestion of repeating Wellington's exploits in Spain. A WPD paper prepared late in January reached the conclusion, among others similarly pessimistic, that an invasion by the historic route through the Low Countries would be dangerous folly. Army thinking, in general, was oriented toward the initial, not the later, stages of an Anglo-American partnership.

So it seems that in the event of a British defeat, the plan would have been Rainbow 1 and/or Rainbow 4, to make time for policy decisions.

The decision to order the B-36 would have had two linked causes. Firstly, developing a large bomber aircraft was obviously going to take a long time, and getting started as early as possible was necessary. Geography made the basic requirements obvious, so the concept of a very long-range bomber was unlikely to become obsolete.

Second, the US Army Air Corps wanted to demonstrate the power of strategic bombing. This concept had been developed between the wars, and provided a justification for an air force as an independent service, which the USAAC leadership very much wanted to achieve. The idea was that strategic bombing could win wars, by itself, quickly and decisively. This wasn't actually true with early WWII technology, although it became so at the end of the war with the advent of atomic weapons.

As it turned out, the B-36 wasn't a very good idea, because it tried to push older technology too far. Of course, it's hard to predict that before finding it out the hard way. Jet-powered bombers, such as the B-52, replaced it fairly rapidly, given the sunk costs of the B-36 fleet, and were far more practical.

  • Terrific info! I myself had never heard about these contingency plans, etc. Thank you! – paul garrett Aug 6 at 20:52
  • So it sounds like the plan in the event of a British defeat was "Rainbow 1 or Rainbow 4 to buy time to figure out what to do". – Mark Aug 6 at 23:00
  • @Mark: Good point, added. – John Dallman Aug 7 at 7:04
  • A little harsh on the B-36, which stayed in use for a decade. In the late 30’s trying to accurately predict how jet engines would develop over the next 20 years would have been pure folly. – Jon Custer Aug 7 at 12:33
  • @JonCuster: Reworded a bit - better? – John Dallman Aug 7 at 23:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.