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.


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.


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", 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 and the gradual buildup of overwhelming force before Germany was engaged head on. [1] [2]

The US tended to regard the reluctance as an example of British caution, but since it then lacked the resources to carry out such an operation, the result was stalemate, along with increased pressure on the British, which began in March 1942 with a letter from US President Franklin Roosevelt to Winston Churchill:

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.

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 Sledgehammer

Sledgehammer was a plan to capture the French seaports of either Brest or Cherbourg during the early autumn of 1942 if 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. The plan became popular and received the code name Sledgehammer. Hopkins added additional political weight to the proposed plan by opining that if US public opinion had anything to do with it, the 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: air superiority, amphibious warfare equipment, sufficient forces and adequate supply. However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered Sledgehammer to be feasible.

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

The pressure to mount Sledgehammer increased further when Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov arrived in Britain 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 and was convinced that a second front in 1942 was actually part of Anglo-American policy.

British proposal

Churchill pressed for a landing in North Africa in 1942. George Marshall suggested instead to Roosevelt for the US to abandon the Germany-first strategy and to take the offensive in the Pacific. Roosevelt "disapproved" the proposal by 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. p. 402. ISBN   0385353065.
  7. Routledge Handbook of US Military and Diplomatic History. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. 2013. p. 135. ISBN   9781135071028.

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