American military leaders had become discouraged about a cross-channel invasion in the spring of 1943, though not primarily because of the lag in the buildup program. In June the British had decided that SLEDGEHAMMER, for which they had never had any enthusiasm, could not be undertaken except in a situation that offered good prospects of success—that is, if the Germans should seem about to collapse. At the moment, with the German summer offensive just starting to roll toward the Caucasus and the lower Don, such a situation did not appear to be an imminent possibility. The British decision was influenced in part by the alarming lag in deliveries of American landing craft, of which less than two-thirds of the promised quota for the operation was expected to materialize. The British also argued that the confusion and losses attendant upon executing SLEDGEHAMMER—and the cost of supporting the beachhead once it was established—were likely to disrupt preparations for the main invasion the following spring. Since SLEDGEHAMMER, if carried out, would have been in the main a British undertaking, the British veto was decisive. The operation was canceled.
As a substitute, the British proposed a less risky venture—landings in French North Africa—that they were confident could be accomplished in stride, without jeopardizing ROUNDUP. To Stimson, Marshall, King, and Arnold this proposal was unacceptable. Failure would be a costly, perhaps fatal rebuff to Allied prestige. Success might be even more dangerous, the Americans feared, for it might lead the Allies step-by-step into a protracted series of operations around the southern periphery of Europe. Such operations could not be decisive and would only postpone the final test of strength with Germany. At the very least, an invasion of North Africa would, the Americans were convinced, rule out a spring 1943 invasion of the continent. The Army planners preferred the safer alternative of simply reinforcing the British in Egypt.
The British proposal was nevertheless politically shrewd, for it was no secret that President Roosevelt had long before expressed a predilection for this very undertaking. He was determined, besides, to send American ground forces into action somewhere in the European area before the end of 1942. Already half persuaded, he hardly needed Churchill’s enthusiastic rhetoric to win him over to the new project. When General Marshall and his colleagues in the Joints Chiefs of Staff suggested as an alternative that the United States should immediately go on the defensive in Europe and turn its main attention against Japan, Roosevelt brusquely rejected the idea.
In mid-July Hopkins, Marshall, and King went to London under orders from the President to reach agreement with the British on some operation in 1942. After a vain effort to persuade the British to reconsider an invasion of the continent in 1942, the Americans reluctantly agreed on July 24 to the North Africa operation, now christened TORCH, to be launched before the end of October. The President, overruling Marshall’s suggestion that a final decision be postponed until mid-September to permit a reappraisal of the Soviet situation, cabled Hopkins that he was “delighted” and that the orders were now “full speed ahead.” Into the final agreement, however, Marshall and King wrote their own conviction that the decision on TORCH “in all probability” ruled out an invasion of the continent in 1943 and meant further that the Allies had accepted “a defensive, encircling line of action” in the European-Mediterranean war.