Operation Sledgehammer

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Operation Sledgehammer was a World War II Allied plan for a cross-Channel invasion of Europe, as the first step in helping to reduce pressure on the Soviet Red Army by establishing a Second Front. It was to be executed in 1942 and acted as a contingency alternative to Operation Roundup, the original Allied plan for the invasion of Europe in 1943. Allied forces were to seize the French Atlantic ports of either Brest or Cherbourg and areas of the Cotentin Peninsula during the early autumn of 1942, and amass troops for a breakout in the spring of 1943.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the "United Nations" from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

English Channel Arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France

The English Channel, also called simply the Channel, is the body of water that separates Southern England from northern France and links the southern part of the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the busiest shipping area in the world.

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.


The operation was eagerly pressed for by both the United States military and the Soviet Union, but rejected by the British, who felt a landing in France was premature, and hence impractical. [1] [2] This perception was reinforced by the failure of the smaller Dieppe Raid in August 1942. As a result, Sledgehammer was never carried out, and instead the British proposal for an invasion of French North Africa took place in November 1942 under the code name Operation Torch.

Dieppe Raid World War II battle on north coast of France

Operation Jubilee, more commonly referred to as the Dieppe Raid, was an Allied assault on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, France on 19 August 1942, during the Second World War. The main assault lasted less than six hours until strong German defences and mounting Allied losses forced its commanders to call a retreat.

French North Africa collection of territories in North Africa controlled by France

French North Africa was a collection of territories in North Africa controlled by France during the 19th and 20th-century colonial era, centering on French Algeria. At its height, it comprised most of the Maghreb.

Operation Torch 1942 Allied landing operations in French North Africa during World War II

Operation Torch was an Anglo–American invasion of French North Africa during the Second World War. It was aimed at reducing pressure on Allied forces in Egypt, and enabling an invasion of Southern Europe. It also provided the ‘second front’ which the Soviet Union had been requesting since it was invaded by the Germans in 1941. The region was dominated by the Vichy French, officially in collaboration with Germany, but with mixed loyalties, and reports indicated that they might support the Allied initiative. The American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commanding the operation, planned a three-pronged attack, aimed at Casablanca (Western), Oran (Center) and Algiers (Eastern), in advance of a rapid move on Tunis.


After the United States entered World War II, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff pressed for an invasion of mainland Europe via the English Channel "as soon as possible", i.e. the early part of 1942. The British were, however, reluctant, as it was felt that other places had a higher priority, the time was not right and insufficient men and landing craft were available. British officials pressed for action in North Africa which would allow relatively inexperienced American forces to gain experience in a less risky theatre while gradually building up overwhelming force before engaging Germany head on. [1] [2]

Joint Chiefs of Staff Body of senior uniformed leaders in the U. S. Department of Defense who advise the President on military matters

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) is a body of senior uniformed leaders in the United States Department of Defense who advise the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council on military matters. The composition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is defined by statute and consists of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (VCJCS), the Military Service Chiefs from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, all appointed by the President following Senate confirmation. Each of the individual Military Service Chiefs, outside their Joint Chiefs of Staff obligations, works directly for the Secretary of the Military Department concerned, i.e., Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of the Air Force.

The U.S. tended to regard this reluctance as an example of British caution but since at the time they lacked the resources to carry out such an operation themselves, the result was stalemate, along with increased pressure on the British, which began in March 1942 with a letter from President Roosevelt to Winston Churchill:

President of the United States Head of state and of government of the United States

The President of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd president of the United States

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the Democratic party, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. Roosevelt is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in American history, as well as among the most influential figures of the 20th century. Though he has been subject to substantial criticism, he is generally rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.

I am becoming more and more interested in the establishment of a new front this summer on the European continent, certainly for air and raids. From the point of view of shipping and supplies it is infinitely easier for us to participate in because of a maximum distance of about three thousand miles. And even though losses will doubtless be great, such losses will be compensated by at least equal German losses and by compelling the Germans to divert large forces of all kinds from the Russian front.

Roosevelt to Churchill, 9 March 1942

On 8 April, General George Marshall and Harry Hopkins arrived in Britain to press the case for two possible American plans for a landing in Occupied France, Operation Roundup and Operation Sledgehammer.

George Marshall American statesman and soldier

George Catlett Marshall Jr. was an American statesman and soldier. He rose through the United States Army to become Chief of Staff under presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, then served as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense under Truman. Winston Churchill lauded Marshall as the "organizer of victory" for his leadership of the Allied victory in World War II, although Marshall declined a final field leadership position that went to his protege, later U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. After the war, as Secretary of State, Marshall advocated a significant U.S. economic and political commitment to post-war European recovery, including the Marshall Plan that bore his name. In recognition of this work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

Harry Hopkins American politician, 8th United States Secretary of Commerce, assistant to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Harry Lloyd Hopkins was an American social worker, the 8th Secretary of Commerce, and one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's closest advisors. He was one of the architects of the New Deal, especially the relief programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which he directed and built into the largest employer in the country. In World War II, he was Roosevelt's chief diplomatic adviser and troubleshooter.

Operation Roundup

Roundup was to be executed by 48 Allied divisions, 18 of which would be British. It was to be mounted before April 1943.

Operation Roundup was the codename for a plan to invade Northern France in the spring of 1943 prepared by Allied forces during World War II.

Operation Sledgehammer

Sledgehammer was a plan to capture the French seaports of either Brest or Cherbourg during the early autumn of 1942 in the event that Germany or the Soviet Union was at the brink of collapse. [3] Sledgehammer was to be carried out mainly by British troops as the Americans could only supply two or three trained divisions in time. [4] [5] Churchill responded that it was "more difficult, less attractive, less immediately helpful or ultimately fruitful than Roundup". After capturing Cherbourg and areas on the Cotentin peninsula, the beachhead was to be defended and held through the winter of 1942 and into 1943, while troops were massed for a breakout operation to take place in spring 1943. This plan became popular and received the codename Sledgehammer. Hopkins added additional political weight to the proposed plan by opining that if U.S. public opinion had anything to do with it, the U.S. war effort would be directed instead against Japan if an invasion of mainland Europe was not mounted soon.

However, the elements required for such an operation were lacking, i.e. air superiority, amphibious warfare equipment, sufficient forces and adequate supply. Despite all this, the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered Sledgehammer feasible.

If Sledgehammer had been carried out, the British could have landed only six divisions at most, whereas the Germans had 25-30 divisions in Western Europe. Assuming it could be established in the first place, a beachhead on the Continental peninsula would be blocked off and attacked by land, sea and air. Cherbourg, the only suitable port would no doubt be mined, while aircraft and artillery would be expected to attack the town in strength, while German armoured forces were brought to bear.

The pressure to mount Sledgehammer increased further when Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov arrived in the UK to press for a Second Front. After trying and failing to persuade Churchill, Molotov travelled on to Washington where he enjoyed a better reception and received more support for his requests. He then returned to London convinced that a Second Front in 1942 was an actual part of Anglo-American policy.

British proposal

Churchill pressed for a landing in North Africa in 1942. U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall suggested instead to Roosevelt that the U.S. abandon the Germany-first strategy and take the offensive in the Pacific. Roosevelt "disapproved" the proposal saying it would do nothing to help Russia. [6] With Roosevelt's support, and Marshall unable to persuade the British to change their minds, in July 1942 Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa, was scheduled for later that year. [7]

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  1. 1 2 Husen, editor, David T. Zabecki ; assistant editors, Carl O. Schuster, Paul J. Rose, William H. Van (1999). World War II in Europe : an encyclopedia. Garland Pub. p. 1270. ISBN   9780824070298.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  2. 1 2 Mackenzie, S.P. (2014). The Second World War in Europe: Second Edition. Routledge. pp. 54–55. ISBN   1317864719.
  3. Matloff, Maurice (1990). "Introduction: The Basis of Strategy". Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare 1943-1944. Center of Military History United States Army. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  4. Payne, Robert (2017-02-07). The Marshall Story: A Biography of General George C. Marshall. Pickle Partners Publishing. ISBN   9781787203990. Sledgehammer was to be a largely British operation
  5. Carew, Michael G. (2014-07-18). The Impact of the First World War on U.S. Policymakers: American Strategic and Foreign Policy Formulation, 1938–1942. Lexington Books. ISBN   9780739190500. Sledgehammer, which of necessity would be a largely British operation, given the lack of trained American forces in 1942.
  6. Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ken (2014). "The Common Cause: 1939-1944". The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN   0385353065.
  7. Routledge Handbook of US Military and Diplomatic History. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. 2013. p. 135. ISBN   9781135071028.

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