Europe first

Europe first

Europe first (sometimes known as Germany first) was the key element of the grand strategy employed by the United States and the United Kingdom during World War II. According to this policy, the United States and the United Kingdom would use the preponderance of their resources to subdue Germany in Europe first. They would also fight a holding action against Japan in the Pacific, using fewer resources. After the defeat of Germany—considered the greater threat—all Allied forces could be concentrated against Japan.


When Japan attacked the United States, the United Kingdom had already been fighting in Europe for over two years, and had relatively few resources to spare to protect far-flung colonies. Since Germany declared war on the United States on December 11, the United States faced a decision about how to allocate resources between these two separate theaters of war. On the one hand, Japan had attacked the United States directly, and the Japanese navy threatened United States territory in a way that Germany, with a limited surface navy, was not in a position to do. On the other hand, Germany was universally considered the stronger and more dangerous power by circumstance, especially because of its closer geographical proximity to the UK and Soviet Union and also because it was on the offense against both nations.

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, American planners foresaw the possibility of a two-front war. Chief of Naval Operations Harold Rainsford Stark authored a memo, the Plan Dog memo, which advocated concentrating on victory in Europe while staying on the defensive in the Pacific. This memo laid the basis for the Europe first policy.


Soon after the declaration of war, the United States and the United Kingdom agreed at the Arcadia Conference on the "Europe first" strategy, and the United States committed to sending the army and air force it was raising to fight Germany in Europe and Africa as soon as it was ready. The campaign against Japan would be focused on halting Japanese expansion until the war on Germany was complete, at which time the full power of the United Kingdom, the United States, and eventually the Soviet Union could be turned against Japan. This strategy would concentrate on what was perceived as the strongest of the Axis Powers, and would prevent a German victory that might knock the United Kingdom or the Soviets out of the war.


In practice, the United States was able to use most of its carriers, battleships, and cruisers against Japan anyway. Germany's surface fleet was small and the escort ships used in the Second Battle of the Atlantic were mostly destroyers and destroyer escorts to counter the U-boat threat.

The Pacific War could be prosecuted successfully with relatively small numbers of ground troops (usually Marines), and by the time Germany was defeated, the Allies had liberated Burma, the Philippines, and a string of island bases leading up to the home islands of Japan. The U.S. started a massive reallocation of troops to the Pacific to prepare for the invasion of Japan, but in the process, Japan surrendered following detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

One clear result of the Europe first policy was that battles in the European theater tended to be set-piece, pre-planned events. With fewer resources, the Allied commanders in the Pacific tended to run much smaller, ad-hoc operations and were forced (by necessity of circumstances) to be more flexible in their strategic planning, For example, as a result of fortuitous events, the Battle of Leyte and later Battle of Iwo Jima were undertaken with almost no strategic foreplanning.

The differences in the theaters were also due to their nature; as Europe was heavily land-based, the only possible defeat of Nazi Germany was an invasion of the continent. When Germany surrendered, Berlin had been captured and only Norway remained in Axis hands. By contrast, to defeat Imperial Japan, a naval power spread out wide across islands in the world's largest ocean, key islands could be taken (such as Leyte) to cut off supply lines and bypass major bases (such as Rabaul and Truk Lagoon.) At the end of World War II the Japanese still held most of their conquered possessions in China and Southeast Asia.

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