The United States and Mexico: Solidarity and Security

Within a few days after the Japanese attack on Hawaii and the Philippines, the nations of the New World had begun to range themselves alongside the United States. Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the six republics of Central America immediately declared war against the Axis. Brazil, whose security was considered vital to the defense of the hemisphere, had pledged its cooperation, but had not for the time being broken its diplomatic ties with the Axis. Mexico, which on occasions had not been on the best of terms with its neighbor to the north, responded as promptly as any and with marked friendliness.

On the second evening after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the President of Mexico, the Honorable Manuel Avila Camacho, publicly affirmed his country's devotion to the cause for which the United States was now fighting. Announcing over a special radio network that Mexico had severed diplomatic relations with Japan, President Avila Camacho placed his nation at the side of all those who could "not admit that international intercourse should remain indefinitely subject to the arbitrary acts of the more powerful countries, and who strive to contribute, by peaceful means, to the building of a world in which man shall be the friend of man . . . ." The peace-loving nations, he continued, were now beset by the forces of aggression. Under the circumstances, it was the destiny of Mexico and the United States to provide the "intimate collaboration that may serve to link together in solidarity the action taken by all the Americas." Then, speaking more particularly to his countrymen and advising them to "maintain the serenity required by the circumstances," President Avila Camacho promised that the government would act with firmness, but ever in conformity to the will of the people and to the dignity and honor of the nation.1


If, in 1939, one had considered the background of contention between the two countries, there would have appeared little prospect of active military collaboration with Mexico. Twenty-two years earlier, when the United States had been on the brink of entering World War I, Mexico was at best an unsympathetic neighbor, and seemingly a potential enemy. United States troops, moving into northern Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa, a popular hero, had left a trail of animosity behind them. An alliance between Imperial Germany and Revolutionary Mexico, such as the Zimmerman Note offered, seemed to be not impossible. In the realm of fact, some of the reforms provided for in the Mexican constitution of 1917 could only be achieved at the expense of American landowners and oil companies in Mexico. This was one of the major irritants during the next two decades. Some degree of understanding and good will was built up by Ambassador Dwight W. Morrow during the late 'twenties and by Ambassador Josephus Daniels a decade later, but no real settlement was possible so long as any step taken by the Mexican Government in that direction could be made to appear as a compromise with the ideals of the revolution or with the spirit of the constitution. After breaking with former President Plutarco Elias Calles, "The Iron Man" of Mexican politics, President Lazaro Cardenas proceeded to launch an intensive expropriation program. The resulting controversy and other long-standing differences had not been completely liquidated when the European war broke out in 1939.2

If the background of contention made military collaboration with Mexico seem uncertain, the strategic outlook at first made it appear unnecessary. During the first twelve months or so after the outbreak of war in Europe, eastern Brazil and the South Atlantic had been the undisputed focal point of hemisphere defense. After the summer of 1940 there were times when Army planners were compelled to divert their attention elsewhere, but by and large they focused their interest on the bulge of Brazil. Mexico, with the consent of its government, might offer a convenient corridor for air movements to the Panama Canal, but the main route to Brazil followed the sweep of the Antilles. And although the disastrous shift in the military situation in Europe during the summer of 1940 began to point to Canada as a more probable partner in arms, nevertheless the narrow seas between Brazil and the Guinea coast continued to engulf most of the attention of the military planners until the United States entered the war.


The fall of France had raised the possibility that American planners of defense would have to view the hemisphere through a bifocal lens, to consider not only remote but also adjoining neighbors, north as well as south. The very crisis itself and the fear that danger was approaching, irrespective of the direction from which it might appear, served to bring the United States closer to its neighbors on both sides. Certain elements in the situation were exerting a definite pull toward a closer relationship with Mexico. A presidential election was approaching in Mexico which might give rise to disorder and domestic disturbances. The fear that Axis agents would take advantage of circumstances such as these to pave the way for a Nazi or Fascist domination of Latin America was not the least of the factors governing United States military planning. Furthermore, Mexico no longer had any firm ties to the Old World. Unlike Canada, which was an integral part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, Mexico was a stanch member of the Pan-American family, committed to the principle that "every act susceptible of disturbing the peace of America affects each and every one" of the American nations. Taking one consideration with another, the prospect for collaboration with Mexico was now becoming rather favorable, but neither Mexico nor Canada rushed headlong to act in concert with the United States, nor did the United States woo either one impetuously. Circumstances pushed the nations of the New World together.

Gathering Momentum

In a vigorous demonstration of their unity of feeling, all the American republics on 19 May 1940 had protested against the German invasion of the Low Countries. The problem, however, was to translate collective indignation into common policy, and common policy into joint action. The United States, on its part, made solemn declaration to its neighbors and to the world that it would "cooperate fully, whenever such cooperation is desired, with the other American Governments in crushing all activities which arise from non-American sources and which imperil our political and economic freedom." 3 Mexico, Brazil, and all the other Latin. American nations except Argentina expressed their readiness to collaborate with the United States. In order to make their collaboration effective, the United States would have to provide many of the material war-making means. Before this could be done the United States would have to know how far each government could go in defending its own territory, how far it could and would go in assisting its neighbors,


whether it would permit the United States to use its bases for the assistance of a third American nation, and whether it would join in staff conversations and authorize the drafting of joint plans.4

While the Battle of France was raging toward its climax in early June 1940, Department of State officials held a series of conversations with the Mexican Ambassador, in which these basic problems of hemisphere defense were explored and the groundwork of active collaboration laid. Before the technical military conversations began, United States Army and Navy staff representatives met with the Ambassador on 11 June to hear a statement of Mexico's position. President Cardenas was fully aware of the threat to the security of the hemisphere, the Ambassador declared, and Mexico, he assured the American officers, "was prepared unreservedly to collaborate with the United States in the development of plans for the common defense." Mexican plans, he continued, were based on the assumption that any physical intervention by the Axis Powers would be a possibility only in the remote future and that German activities in Mexico could be discounted as a serious threat to continental security. The Mexican Government, the Ambassador said, had already taken measures to control the small German element in the country. Mexico's greatest need, he continued, was equipment and munitions, which in the past had always been obtained from Europe. As its contribution, the Mexican Government was, he intimated, prepared to develop air and naval bases "at places to be chosen strategically, not only from the purely national point of view but from the broader point of view of hemisphere defense." The Ambassador then ended his remarks by pointing out that the necessary basis of joint military action in an emergency was a general political agreement between the two countries.5

The conversations were resumed in July after the Mexican elections, and representatives of the naval and military agencies of both countries participated. Although only conditional agreements resulted, these July conferences succeeded in creating an atmosphere of frankness and harmony, and served to place on record the views of the two War Departments. Both countries expressed their complete willingness to cooperate; neither was ready to go as far as the other wished. Brig. Gen. Tomás Sánchez Hernandez, the senior Mexican representative, reiterated what the Ambassador had said concerning the Axis threat to Mexico and the importance of Mexico's obtaining equipment and munitions from the United States, but he was not prepared to elaborate on the Ambassador's hint that Mexican airfields might be available


for purposes of hemisphere defense. When asked point-blank whether Mexico would permit the use of its airfields for movements to Panama and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, and whether Mexico could guarantee the security of the airfields, he replied that he was not authorized to say "yes," but his opinion was that the President of Mexico would extend "full and sincere cooperation." As to the protection of the airfields, he pointed out that except in the State of Chiapas the fields were owned principally by Americans. As to purchasing arms and machinery in the United States, he emphasized that Mexico's participation in hemisphere defense depended upon its ability to participate without disturbing the economy of the country. The best solution, the general concluded, would be for the United States to grant credits to Mexico and allocate arms and machinery simultaneously. Colonel Clark, the senior United States Army representative, agreed that this was undoubtedly a sound idea, but hardly within the province of the War Department.6  Meanwhile, the naval conferences had succeeded in disposing of certain particular problems of cooperation and liaison that were more detailed than the general questions of national security, the solution of which had been the concern of the Army staff conferences. Nevertheless, the Navy Department's major objective, base rights at Acapulco and Magdalena Bay, was not included in the series of specific recommendations to which the naval representatives of the two nations put their names on 24 July.7  The Army conferences had come to an end two days earlier. Although it was then agreed to reassemble at the call of General Sanchez, the meetings were not resumed until the next year, 1941.

In the meantime, the War and Navy Departments tried to obtain a formal, signed agreement as the finishing touch to the conferences. Without undue delay, the record of the conversations was approved and forwarded through customary diplomatic channels to the Mexican Government for its approval. Throughout August and September the two departments awaited word that Mexico had accepted the staff agreements. December arrived and the new president, Avila Camacho, was inaugurated in Mexico City, but the new government, like its predecessor, withheld formal approval. There had been talk of establishing a joint defense board similar to the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, Canada-United States, and President Avila Camacho, although for the moment unwilling to concur publicly and officially in such a step, was agreeable to another series of informal staff conversations by the


men who would later become members of the board. Prominent among the items on the proposed agenda was a recommendation by the Army and the Navy that the agreements conditionally made in the July conferences be formally ratified. 8  All efforts along this line were unsuccessful until after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

The delay did not appear to reflect any genuine unwillingness on the part of either government to cooperate with the other; rather it seemed to represent a bowing to expediency on the part of both and to the circumstances of the moment as seen by the Mexican Government. For a time after the July elections a revolution in Mexico seemed probable. Adherents of the defeated candidate declared that the will of the people had been circumvented by fraud and would triumph through force. By September sporadic rioting and demonstrations had spread from Mexico City to the Rio Grande. A rump government installed itself in the southern hills, while the northwest-Mexico's cockpit of revolution-began to seethe. An open, publicly announced understanding between the federal government and the United States would have added more fuel to the turmoil. After the threat of revolution had passed, Nazi agents and a small "fifth column" tried to keep the flames alive by charging that a "Cardenas-Avila Camacho combine had sold Mexico down the river to the United States in payment for our recognition of Avila Camacho." 9 A spurious "treaty" was circulated as evidence. Wholly fictitious, the document was supposed to have been signed at Cuernavaca on 14 November by Cardenas, Avila Camacho, and three United States Army officers, and purported to give the United States the whole of Baja California, the use of all Mexican ports as naval bases, as well as a monopoly on all oils and minerals, and, finally, to permit the occupation of Mexico by the United States Army.10  The virulence of the attack went far beyond the customary post-election anti-Americanism. Until it died down President Avila Camacho undoubtedly preferred not to make any formal commitment or public announcement of collaboration with the United States.

A misapprehension by the War Plans Division of what the Mexican representatives had agreed to in the conferences of July 1940 probably contributed to the Mexican Government's hesitancy. On this point the record of the conversations is clear. General Sanchez agreed only to inform the Mexican Ambassador, first, that the United States desired to use Mexican airfields for purposes of "continental defense" and, second, that the United States requested


Mexico to provide adequate protection for the fields. Yet the War Plans Division, in a memorandum for General Marshall on 31 July, gave the following as two of the bases of agreement brought out in the conferences:

Mexico will agree to allow the United States to use its airfields for movement of U.S. combat aviation to the Panama Canal or elsewhere in Latin America, as required to accomplish the tasks of Hemisphere Defense. Mexico will agree to protect its airfields so as to afford security for their use by US aviation, . . . 11

The mistaken idea that a formal acceptance by Mexico of the conditional agreements reached in the conferences would obligate the Mexican Government to permit the United States to use Mexican airfields persisted until mid-February 1941.12

One of the major stumbling blocks to a hard and fast defense agreement, after a measure of domestic tranquility had returned to Mexico, was the continued failure of the two countries to settle their claims controversy. After President Avila Camacho took office, the United States made a determined effort to reach a general accord, but the oil question remained as turbid as ever. Little progress, if any, could be discerned until midsummer of 1941, when the two governments approved a tentative formula of settlement. Almost simultaneously the course of military collaboration became smoother.13  Although the final agreements that settled the oil problem and its related issues were not signed until three or four months afterward, neither government was responsible for the delay. Both hailed the settlement with deep satisfaction. Its importance to the joint military effort lay principally in the interpretation placed upon it by the Mexican Government, and Foreign Minister Ezequiel Padilla was unsparing of his praise. The November agreements, he told the Mexican Senate, marked a change in the foreign policy of the United States. They were "a clean sweep of the irritation and barriers that had lasted for several decades," and "one of the most eloquent demonstrations of the spirit of the new America." They were, he concluded, the "logical, imperative and indispensable" leaven of liberty, proof of continental solidarity.14  Five or, six years later, Cordell Hull looked back over his long career and decided that the settlement of November 1941 was "a large


factor in having our neighbor to the south in full accord with us at the moment of Pearl Harbor." 15

Running parallel to, and simultaneously with, the Department of State negotiations that ended in the claims agreement was a series of military staff conferences. Picking up where the conversations of the previous July had left off, Mexican and United States staff officers had been meeting fairly regularly since February 1941. Although nominally informal discussions of matters of common interest, the 1941 conferences actually were official parleys between representatives of the War and Navy Departments of the two countries for the purposes of reaching a formal agreement on important military and naval problems. They accomplished much, and later, in 1942, they developed into the joint Mexican-United States Defense Commission.

The Joint Mexican-United States Defense Commission

The first tangible evidence of President Avila Camacho's intent to collaborate in matters of defense had appeared within three weeks of his inauguration. In reply to an inquiry about setting up a joint defense commission, Foreign Minister Padilla on 20 December 1940 had informed the American Embassy that the Mexican military and naval attaches in Washington had been instructed to begin preliminary discussions whenever it was agreeable with the Department of State and the Mexican Ambassador.16

The first meeting was held on 17 February 1941, soon after the new Mexican military attaché, Col. Cristobal Guzman Cardenas, arrived in Washington. The American Army representatives, chosen three months earlier were: Brig. Gen. John N. Greely, chairman of the American section; Lt. Col. Delmar E. Wilson; and Colonel Ridgway, who served as secretary. Captain William O. Spears, USN, Comdr, F. T. Thomas, and Comdr. C. T. Durgin represented the Navy. The Mexican representatives, in addition to Colonel Guzman, were Comdr. Manuel Zermeno, Mexican Navy, and Lt. Col. Jose Perez Allende, Mexican Army. The last of the "preliminary discussions" was held on 3 December 1941, there having been twenty sessions in all. Only one change of personnel took place. At the end of March General Greely was given command of the 2d Infantry Division, and his place in the discussions was taken by General Embick, the senior Army member on the Canadian defense board.17


It was decided at the first meeting that the staff conversations of July 1940 would be a good starting point for the new discussions. On this, the representatives of both governments were agreed. To the Mexicans, the July 1940 conferences had been an attempt to explore the ways of cooperation and not to settle the detailed means of defense, whereas to the American staff representatives the goal had been a definite agreement on the transit of military planes through Mexico and the acquisition of naval bases on Mexico's Pacific coast. The same lines of approach were taken in February 1941.18

During the whole period before the official establishment of the joint commission in 1942, these two topics-the use of Mexican airfields by American Army planes en route to the Panama Canal or to South America and the acquisition of naval bases-dominated the discussions. The major achievement was the flight agreement on the use of the airfields. The use of Mexican ports by operating units of the United States Navy was not obtained until after the United States had entered the war, notwithstanding the fact that Captain Spears, the senior United States Navy member, had taken up the subject with the staff representatives whenever the occasion offered. But, as a scholarly history of American policy in this period points out,

Throughout the negotiations for naval base facilities in Mexico it was fully realized in Washington that a satisfactory solution of this problem was dependent upon the settlement of various other issues between the two Governments and above all upon disposition of the protracted dispute over the claims of American oil companies resulting from the nationalization of the petroleum industry by the Mexican Government in 1938.19

After the resumption of the staff talks in February 1941, the Army representatives had more than once expressed the opinion that the time had come to establish a joint defense commission, and as soon as all the details of the flight agreement were settled the question of formally constituting and publicly announcing a defense commission was again raised. A recommendation to this effect, pointing to the alarming international situation, was addressed to the Department of State by Admiral Stark and General Marshall on 15 July, but, to quote again the previously cited history of American foreign policy, "the project for a joint Defense Commission was not pressed, since the State Department felt that American claims for compensation arising from Mexico's expropriation of foreign petroleum properties should first be settled and that the issue of naval base rights should also be given precedence." 20

Not until late December was a formal announcement of the commission worked out by the two governments. The inadvisability of further postpon-


ing it had been made evident by urgent requests from the Army Air Forces that permission to place aircraft detector stations in northwest Mexico and to make unrestricted flights in time of emergency be obtained from the Mexican Government. Outlining the situation for the Chief of Staff on 1 December, General Embick pointed out that requests of this kind would multiply if the United States became involved in the war. There was no reason, he concluded, why the appointment should be delayed any longer.21  A week later Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States was at war.

Without the slightest delay, President Avila Camacho hastened to express Mexico's indignation at the treacherous blow and to affirm his government's determination to stand by the United States. There were in Mexico, as there had heretofore been in the United States, varying shades of popular opinion as to how far to go in support of the embattled democracies. The morning after the Pearl Harbor attack one of the more widely read Mexican newspapers, La Prensa, which was then numbered among the more staid journals, appeared on the streets of Mexico City with a front-page editorial urging an unmistakable alignment with the United States. The war against Japan, declared La Prensa,

is precisely Mexico's war, as it is the whole continent's war. Our stand is unquestionable, clearly commanded by conscience and unqualified. Our place, in history as in geography, is with the neighbor who was at our side during our War of Independence and during our war with the French invaders . . . 22

Other newspapers took a more conservative stand. El Nacional agreed that Mexico's sympathies were entirely with the United States and that her place was with the democracies, but at the same time the paper insisted that Mexico should concentrate on her own house and limit her support to a vigilant guard against possible infiltration by the enemy.23  Another respected journal, El Universal, reiterated the desirability of preserving neutrality at all cost, but not to the point of permitting international vandalism to guide Mexico's destiny. Mexico could not disregard the possibility of an attack, continued El Universal, and "should therefore proceed from now on as though hostilities with totalitarian Japan were going to break out." 24 All three papers applauded the president for his statesman-like conduct. Emblematic of popular approbation, former President Cardenas wired President Avila Camacho that he was placing himself at the disposition of the government, an offer the president accepted by naming General Cardenas Commander in Chief of all Mexican forces on the Pacific coast. On 24 December the Mexican Senate


gave its assent to a presidential message opening Mexican ports and airfields to naval and military planes of the United States.25

Meantime, in Washington, officials of the War, Navy, and State Departments had met and discussed the joint commission question. At a conference on 18 December the War Department's view of the matter was accepted by the representative of the Department of State, who promised to see what could be done. Within ten days the Department of State was able to inform the War Department that Mexico had formally agreed to establishing the commission. The Department of State thought that most of the work of the commission would concern problems of the Pacific coast and that consequently Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt and the senior admiral on the Pacific coast would be the most appropriate representatives of the United States; but the staff conversations had been ably presided over for some months by General Embick, who was thus familiar with Mexican problems and who, being senior Army member of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, Canada-United States, was in a position to coordinate the northern defenses with those to the south. These considerations led to the designation of General Embick.26

A brief announcement on 12 January 1942 revealed to the public that the two governments had decided to establish a joint defense commission. The American members, it was announced, were to be General Embick and Admiral Johnson, who as commander of the Atlantic Squadron in 1939 had organized the neutrality patrol-America's first experience in hemisphere defense. Their Mexican colleagues were Maj. Gen. Miguel Gonzalez Cadena, chairman of the Mexican section, and General Sanchez Hernandez, who had participated in the discussions of July 1940.27  When General Embick left the commission toward the end of the year, he was replaced temporarily by Maj. Gen. John P. Smith, sometime Chief, Operations Section, War Plans Division, and more recently Chief, Administrative Services, Services of Supply. Admiral Johnson thereupon acceded to the chairmanship of the American section. General Smith served only briefly and was then replaced by Maj. Gen. Guy V. Henry. General Henry, like General Embick, was one of the Army's "Elder Statesmen." After a long career distinguished by assignments as Chief of Cavalry, as commanding general of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (mechanized), and as Commandant of the Cavalry School, he had retired, only to be recalled to active duty in 1941 as a member of the War Depart-


ment Personnel Board, on which he was serving when appointed to the joint Defense Commission. The Mexican representatives, too, were replaced by new members during the year. In early June 1942 the Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Francisco Castillo Najera, who had done as much as anyone to lay the groundwork two years before, was commissioned a major general in the Mexican Army and appointed to the joint Defense Commission in place of General Gonzalez, who returned to other duties in Mexico. Three months later, in September, Brig. Gen. Luis Alamillo Flores was appointed to succeed General Sanchez, the second member of the Mexican section.28

Both in the nature of the subjects it dealt with and in its procedure, the commission differed from the Canadian-United States Board on Defense, established a year and a half earlier. President Roosevelt's Executive order of 27 February 1942, which brought the United States section of the commission formally into being, had no counterpart with respect to the Canadian-United States board, though it might have applied equally well to the latter. The purpose of the joint Mexican-United States Defense Commission, the Executive order stated, "shall be to study problems relating to the common defense of the United States and Mexico to consider broad plans for the defense of Mexico and adjacent areas of the United States, and to propose to the respective Governments the cooperative measures which, in its opinion, should be adopted." 29 After being in operation for some months, the commission drew up a statement of rules and regulations, which it appended to its first annual report and which took the same broad view of the commission's functions. After citing the Executive order, the statement continued: "The Commission shall have cognizance of all matters relating to the common defense of Mexico and the United States and to military cooperation between them." 30 A considerably narrower precept had been proposed by the War Plans Division. When called upon for a broad definition of objectives, the War Plans Division had cited only such details as "unrestricted flight privileges for military aircraft of the United States over Mexican territory, use of airports and facilities, permission for the movement of ground forces into or through Mexican territory, etc." 31 And for this reason the War Department vetoed, with the concurrence of the Navy Department, any suggestion that there be a representative of the Department of State or any other civilian on the commission, as there was on the Canadian-United States board. The narrower view, not the statement of the commission, was the one


that prevailed. Confining its deliberations principally to the technical details of military and naval cooperation, the commission seldom ranged very widely into a consideration of broad plans and peripheral problems.32 An ever larger share of its attention became occupied with lend-lease requests, which the commission passed upon and channeled to the proper authorities.

During the first year of its official existence, beginning with March 1942, the commission made almost exactly as many formal recommendations as the Canadian-United States joint board made in the corresponding period. Those of the Canadian-United States joint board were the end result of a unanimously agreed upon opinion. They were a joint product, reached after thorough discussion by both sections of the board. A "recommendation" of the joint Mexican-United States Defense Commission was, on the other hand, nothing more than a memorandum outlining a specific course of action for a particular situation or requesting that certain measures be taken, which one section drew up and formally presented to the other for approval. The recommendation represented the views of the section that drafted it. When the concurrence of the section to which the proposal had been submitted was received, the recommendation was sent to the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations, and to the appropriate military and naval authorities in Mexico, for execution. On at least two occasions the Mexican section, instead of approving an American recommendation that had been submitted for approval, presented the identical proposal as of Mexican origin for the approval of the American section.

Nearly all the details that went into the making of military collaboration between the two countries, whether handled by the commission or not, fell into three major groups. The first, and perhaps the most important category down to December 1941, included everything relating to Mexico's role in the defense of the Western Hemisphere. A second, rather amorphous, group took shape around the relation of the United States to Mexican security, particularly to the defense of Baja California. The third, and the one that presented an aspect of greatest urgency after the attack on Pearl Harbor, comprised all the details relating to Mexico's part in the defense of California. The formal recommendations of the commission followed this pattern. Beginning in March 1942, the first four recommendations all related to the defense of the two Californias; thereafter they were about evenly divided in number.33


Lend-lease projects, which became increasingly numerous in 1943 and 1944, were principally designed to further the internal security of Mexico, and in some instances were an informal quid pro quo for measures belonging in one of the other two groups.

The Mexican Corridor

On the broad stage of hemisphere defense Mexico had a double role: to make available to the United States the aviation facilities that would permit the ready movement of American military planes to Panama, and to provide the naval bases that would facilitate United States fleet operations in the Pacific in defense of the Panama Canal. Mexico's willingness to accept this role was affirmed and reiterated by several spokesmen of the government, but always with the condition, either express or implicit, that nothing would be undertaken that might involve the slightest infringement of Mexican sovereignty or national dignity. The staff conferences of 1941 wrestled with this problem for nearly six months before complete accord was reached on the details of a flight agreement that would give the Army an air corridor to Panama.

The flight agreement was the great accomplishment of 1941. It began with what General Greely, chairman of the American staff representatives, called "remarkably quick action," for less than two weeks intervened between the time the subject was broached at the meeting of 11 March and the date the Mexican Government's approval was announced.34 But if the staff conferences of 1941 were the continuation of those held the summer before, then the flight agreement was the culmination of eight months of effort. In its original form, the draft agreement submitted to the Mexican staff representatives by General Greely on 11 March neglected to specify any route for seaplanes, omitted any mention that the subject had been discussed in the previous staff conversations, and failed to include reciprocal privileges for Mexican planes. While the necessary additions were being discussed in the meeting of 11 March, Commander Zermeno, the Mexican naval attaché, expressed the opinion that his government would approve the agreement, but he pointed out that neither he nor any of his colleagues had authority to speak for the government.35  Nevertheless, he was more prescient than the Mexican military representative who had spoken in similar vein at the time of the July 1940 conversations, for on 25 March the head of the delegation announced that the Mexican Government had agreed to the unrestricted use of Mexican airfields by United States military planes en route to Panama, on the under-


standing that the United States would extend a like courtesy. And at the same time the Mexican representatives submitted a list of arms and equipment that they were desirous of obtaining from the United States.36

Although the general lines of agreement were smoothly laid down, the procedural details were somewhat more troublesome. Six meetings during the month of April were devoted entirely to the problem of deciding on a set of flight rules, and by the end of the month most of the particulars were settled. The question whether the planes should follow the usual commercial routes was finally solved by specifically designating the routes permitted; the question to whom the advance notification should be given was settled; and the more embarrassing question whether American flight personnel should be confined to the limits of the fields at which they landed was cleared up by acceding to the wishes of the Mexican Government. By the end of April the flight rules agreed upon in the staff conferences had been approved by the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy, and had been forwarded by them to the Secretary of State in order to obtain the formal approval of both governments. This was done on 22 May by an exchange of notes between the Department of State and the Mexican Embassy.37  But no sooner was the ratification completed than a still more delicate problem arose. For some time, ;the Air Corps had been proposing to send about eighty new-type pursuit planes to Panama, and if they were sent by way of Mexico, a number of Air Corps mechanics would be necessary at each landing field. When this question had been raised during the staff conference of 22 April, the Mexican representatives held that special arrangements would have to be made since this was a topic not covered by the flight agreement. There was no further discussion of the point until after the flight rules agreement was approved.

Then a misunderstanding, serious enough to have wrecked the staff conversations but for the patience and mutual good will of the men, occurred in the course of pursuing the matter. At the meeting of 6 June the American representatives presented a request for permission to station small detachments of aviation mechanics at the Tampico, Veracruz, and Tapachula airfields. Colonel Guzman, in what must have been a considered reply, cited a provision in the Mexican constitution forbidding the stationing in Mexican territory of the armed forces of another power, although the American representatives pointed out that the mechanics would wear civilian clothes all the time. After some discussion Commander Zermeno offered the suggestion that


the men be given positions in the office of the United States military attaché, and the upshot was that the Mexican representatives agreed to discuss the American request with Ambassador Castillo Najera.38 Ten days later, on 16 June, Colonel Guzman called a meeting to lodge formal protest against what seemed to be a bypassing of the staff discussions. According to the memorandum he presented at the meeting, Ambassador Daniels in Mexico City had informed the Mexican Government two days before that the United States proposed to station mechanics at the fields immediately. Since the United States Government had not waited for the Mexican Government's reply to the proposal of 6 June and had handled the matter through diplomatic channels, Colonel Guzman continued, the Mexican representatives could only consider the question as having passed beyond the immediate jurisdiction of the staff committee. As for the proposal itself, the opinion was now expressed that the permanent stationing of men at the airfields would transform the simple use of the fields into their use as air bases, and this could not be permitted. By proceeding in such fashion, Colonel Guzman protested, the United States had jeopardized the "fine harmony that has hitherto characterized the military relations between the two countries." 39

What had apparently happened was that the Air Corps, bypassing the American staff representatives, had requested the Department of State to obtain permission for the mechanics to enter Mexico, and this request, traveling the customary Department of State channels, had eventually become the note delivered by Ambassador Daniels on 14 June. Although it was officially withdrawn by the Ambassador later the same day, perhaps at the prompting of the War Department, word of it was immediately relayed to the Mexican staff representatives in Washington.40

The discussion that followed Colonel Guzman's formal protest revealed the Mexican representatives as less intransigent than his memorandum had given one to believe. They were agreeable to continuing the discussion of the American proposal and were willing to accept Colonel Ridgway's apologies as a satisfactory end to the affair.

Colonel Ridgway's reply gave no explanation of the misunderstanding, but did express profound regret that it had occurred and gave assurance that the staff conferences would continue to serve as the means for negotiating


matters of this sort. In accepting it, Colonel Guzman explained that not all the misunderstanding had been on the part of the American agencies, that some of it was the result of a too hasty report from Mexico City of the note presented by Ambassador Daniels. The note, it now appeared, had been much less peremptory and of quite different tenor. The question that had caused all the confusion was soon solved along lines proposed by the Mexican Ambassador, namely, that the mechanics, wearing civilian clothes, could enter Mexico and remain at the airfields not as members of the United States Army, but as employees of Pan American Airways.41

A staging route from Miami to Panama via western Cuba and the history-steeped Yucatan peninsula had already suggested itself as an alternative to the primary route by way of Tampico, Veracruz, and Tapachula. Of the several fields in Yucatan that were discussed at the staff meetings, the one on Isla Cozumel seemed best for the Army's purposes. It was a short distance up the eastern coast of the peninsula, conveniently located-midway between the proposed San Julian field at La Fe, Cuba, and Belize in British Honduras-and offered plenty of room for expansion. Permission to carry out the necessary improvements was obtained from the Mexican Government in late August along with the privilege of using the Pan American Airways field at Merida until the work at Cozumel, which was expected to take a year to complete, was finished.42 When the reciprocal flight agreement was revised the following summer, in June 1942, the Yucatan route was included among the specific routes over which American military planes were authorized to travel.

In the meantime had come the attack on Pearl Harbor. Describing the aftermath of the blow, one of America's foremost historians has written: "It was the most appalling situation America had faced since the preservation of the Union had been assured . . . . Anything might happen. Even strikes on Puget Sound, San Francisco or the Panama Canal were not beyond the range of possibility." 43 So it had seemed to Army planners in the dark days of December 1941. From his headquarters on Quarry Heights, overlooking the Pacific entrance to the Canal, General Andrews took immediate steps to push long-range air patrols out into the Pacific. A squadron of medium bombers (six B-18's) was operating from Guatemala City before the month was out,


another was sent to San Jose early in January, and General Andrews began raising the question of a bomber base in Mexico.44

The use of Mexican airfields as operating bases was something that Mexico had resolutely refused. But with the war coming closer to Mexico, with the break in diplomatic ties between Mexico and the Axis, and with the Mexican Senate having approved the opening of airfields to American military planes, there were grounds for hoping that the opposition would soon disappear. Nevertheless, formal consideration of this and other military matters waited upon the resumption of staff conversations. Progress can be dated with exactitude only from 17 April, when the American section of the joint defense commission submitted a request for a heavy bomber airdrome at Tehuantepec to be used for patrolling the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal. Although approving the request at once, the Mexican section suggested that the formal recommendation be drawn up as coming from the American section. As agreed upon at the meeting of 30 April, the recommendation proposed that the construction of an airfield in the Tehuantepec area suitable for heavy planes be undertaken by the Compañia Mexicana de Aviación at the expense of the United States Government. When completed, the airdrome and all its installations were to remain under the command of Mexican military authorities.45

By this time the passages into the Caribbean, not the Panama Canal, were under assault. German submarines, not Japanese carriers, were the attackers, and Mexican merchant vessels, as well as American, were the victims. The sinking of two Mexican tankers, one hard upon the other, with the loss of twenty-one men, and Germany's contemptuous ignoring of Mexico's note of protest brought Mexico into the war in May 1942 as a full-fledged ally of the United States. The submarine blitz in the Caribbean continued into the summer. The B-18's operating out of bases in Guatemala were no answer, and the Tehuantepec base also, even if it had been ready, was well outside the Caribbean combat area. Emergency facilities were hastily pressed into service. The Navy quickly converted San Julian field into an operating base for patrol planes and shortly afterward sent four Catalinas to patrol from Grand Cayman Island.46 The airfield on Cozumel suddenly assumed an importance beyond that of a mere stop along the staging route to Panama. When the United States requested permission to use Cozumel as a base for antisubmarine operations, the Mexican Government at once authorized its use for


this purpose for a period of thirty days and soon extended the permission indefinitely.47 By the end of the year the countermeasures had begun to take effect. Although victory over the submarines was by no means in sight, the battle was no longer one-sided.

More encouraging was the change in the whole strategic situation of the war. After the Battle of Midway in June, the air strength of the Japanese Fleet, if not completely shattered, was at least blunted. In the Far East the belief that Australia was dangerously threatened had been dissipated by the beginning of the new year, 1943. The struggle for Guadalcanal was in its last stages; the first victories in Papua had been won. The Allies were on the way to Tokyo at last. The turning of the tide in the far Pacific was felt nine thousand miles eastward by the men looking out over the same ocean from their guard posts on the heights of Panama, and the result was an easing of fears for the safety of the Canal. In the Atlantic, the Allied Powers had also taken the offensive by invading North Africa. German submarines, withdrawn from the western Atlantic to harry the invasion routes, were unable to cut the supply lines to Africa, while the slackening of activity in western waters gave the United States an opportunity to strengthen the defenses along the outer fringes of the Caribbean. The island bases were built up and more adequate convoy measures provided, and the need for operating bases in Mexico and Central America was correspondingly reduced.

The result was an agreement reached by the joint defense commission on 11 January 1943 (the so-called Alamillo-Glantzberg agreement) in pursuance of which construction at Cozumel and two other fields in Yucatan, and at the bomber base at Tehuantepec was to be curtailed.48 Before he left Panama early in December 1942 for a new command, General Andrews had expressed his dissatisfaction with the conditions under which the use of the Tehuantepec base had been granted. Negotiations to permit the United States to station ground troops and technical service detachments at Tehuantepec came to nothing, and early in January Lt. Gen. George H. Brett, the new commanding general in Panama, notified the War Department that he had dropped the plans for using Tehuantepec as an operating base.49  In the meantime the Tehuantepec and Cozumel fields were brought under the maintenance provisions of the Pan American Airways contract. By the spring of


1944, Tehuantepec and the Yucatan airfields were being maintained only as emergency fields.50

The flight agreement of 1941, which established the general principles underlying the use of Mexican airfields, had meanwhile undergone some modifications. There had been the changes of June 1942 revising and adding to the designated routes, but the only genuinely substantive change came in the spring of 1943. During the previous fall, delays in the weather and communications service in Mexico, under the control of the Pan American Airways subsidiary, Compañia Mexicana de Aviación, had given rise to concern for the safety of planes flying the Tampico-Veracruz-Tapachula route. At the desire of the Army Air Forces, the American section introduced at one of the October meetings of the defense commission a request for permission to set up an Army airway control station at each of the three airfields. In addition to the necessary equipment, the facilities would require a total of nine American officers and fifty-seven enlisted men. The complication that in earlier months had snarled all discussion of service detachments at the airfields and of radar stations in Baja California now raised itself again. The Mexican Government agreed that improved weather and communications facilities were needed and was willing to permit the United States to furnish the additional equipment, but it insisted upon manning and operating the stations with Mexican personnel. Upon this, the American section of the commission offered a compromise, one similar to the arrangement worked out for radar stations, under which United States Army technicians would operate the equipment jointly with Mexican personnel until the latter were sufficiently versed to take over the operation.51 The compromise provided a basis for agreement, which was finally reached in mid-April 1943.52 Although it required the Americans to report and work in civilian clothes and to be under the command of the local Mexican Army commanders, the agreement, according to General Henry, represented the most liberal terms that could be obtained. He was confident that close cooperation with the, Mexican authorities would result, as it had in other instances, in a freedom of action far beyond the actual terms of the agreement.53  In forwarding it to the Operations Division of the General Staff for approval, General Henry recommended paying scrupulous attention to a consideration that was more often disregarded than not, pointing out:


The success of this operation and subsequent relations with Mexico will, in a large part, be dependent upon the care with which the personnel . . . is selected and {upon] their conduct after arrival in Mexico. Every effort must be made to select personnel not only well qualified technically in their specialty, but also qualified temperamentally to work . . . (in) daily close association with the Mexican personnel involved in this operation . . . . They must, at all times, be on the alert not to give the impression, either by word or expression, of impatience or disapproval of local customs.54

Next in importance to the weather and communication service agreement was a procedural change adopted in 1944. Under the original flight agreement the United States was required to notify the Mexican Government twenty-four hours in advance of each flight. The prescribed channel-through The Adjutant General's Office, the Mexican Embassy in Washington, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mexico City, and thence to the appropriate Mexican military authorities-was devious and the 24-hour requirement was cumbersome. Early in 1944 the defense commission agreed upon a change in procedure. In effect, the new requirement was simply that the commander of each flight would, upon departure from the American base, notify the first Mexican airfield by radio.55

The burdensome features of the original flight agreement had not detracted from its importance as long as the situation seemed to call for reinforcing the air defenses of the Panama Canal. One of the solid facts in the hurly-burly of 1941 and a bright spot in the perilous days immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor was the existence of a convenient, safe, and friendly air corridor to Panama. The later modifications in the agreement were symbolic of the closing ties between the two countries, an increasing cooperation, which found concrete expression in the measures the United States was taking to help insure the security of Mexico and in the parallel steps taken by Mexico to assist in the defense of the continental United States.

The United States and the Security of Mexico

During the twenty-seven months that intervened between the German invasion of Poland and the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mexico's chief problem of defense was one of internal security. Discussion in the staff conversations of 194o, although it took place at a time when fear of an Axis victory was very real, discounted the danger of an Axis assault on Mexico. The Antilles, it was believed, presented an almost impenetrable defensive screen against raids from across the Atlantic; a strike from the far side of the Pacific seemed extremely unlikely.56 Much more ground existed for the belief that a "fifth


column" was at work undermining the security of Mexico. Even before the European war started, Nazi agents had been placed in Mexico in hopes of organizing the rather large body of Mexicans of German descent into a propaganda and potential espionage agency, of securing a hold on the Mexican mining industry, and of preparing an "underground railroad" into the United States against the time it might be needed. Anti-Americanism, always a convenient host for any kind of political parasite, was crossed with totalitarianism and took on a malignant form. The Sinarquista Movement, which an American news correspondent in Mexico considered as potentially the most dangerous fifth column in the Americas, was a good example of Nazi funds and intrigue at work. A local movement of obscure origins, Sinarquismo was carefully fostered by the Axis agents in Mexico.57 Even if it seldom emerged into the open, Nazi sentiment by its very existence was a threat to internal security, for the Mexican Government gave every appearance of being determined to carry out the letter and spirit of the Panama and Havana agreements. As the American airport development program progressed, Nazi activity in Mexico became a matter of more direct concern to the War Department. At one point it was "reliably reported" to the Military Intelligence Division that Nazi agents had obtained full sets of the detailed plans for all the new fields.58 As the United States saw it, this side of Mexico's security problem was foremost.

In the spring of 1940, shortly before the Nazi armies broke the lull in the European war by invading Norway and Denmark, the Tar Department G-2 Division prepared a long, detailed "combat estimate" of Mexico's military establishment.59 The burden of the report was that the Mexican Army, although adequate for suppressing domestic uprisings and maintaining internal security, would, for lack of equipment and training, be unable to wage a successful war against any strong opponent. The principal shortages were in artillery and planes and munitions of all sorts, the report continued, and neither officers nor men had been trained "as a cohesive team in the tactics and technique of modern warfare." 60 The Mexican Navy, which had existed as a separate service only since 1 January 1940, a matter of three months, consisted of little more than a few coastal patrol boats. The obvious conclusion was not lost upon either the Mexican or the United States Government;


both saw the problem of Mexican defense as one of obtaining war materials in the United States and of establishing training programs for Mexican soldiers there.

At this time, the Mexican Government was negotiating in the United States for the purchase of thirty-two 75-mm. guns, fifty thousand rifles, fifty to a hundred observation planes, eighteen pursuit planes, and all the necessary ammunition.61 The problem involved obtaining not only the guns and planes but also the dollar credits to pay for them. Unwilling to set up political hurdles or assume financial obligations that might lead to budgetary complications, the Mexican Government throughout 1940 and 1941 remained chary of accepting financial aid from the United States. By the beginning of 1941, three Central American republics and Mexico were the only Latin American countries that had not submitted a list of arms requirements to the War Department.62 In October, seven months after the passage of the Lend-Lease Act, Mexico presented its first list. Included in it were one hundred 60-mm. mortars, twenty 37-mm. antiaircraft cannon with a thousand rounds of high-explosive shells for each cannon, seventy-six training planes, ten amphibian bombers, parachutes, machine guns, and two hundred armed and armored motorcycles. Although every item was of the highest priority to Mexico the staff representatives, having been instructed not to discuss terms of payment, were unable to tell the American representatives whether or not the materials were to be obtained under lend-lease. Further delay followed.63 On 27 March 1942, a little more than a year after lend-lease was enacted, the first lend-lease agreement with Mexico was signed. The approach of war had broken down Mexican scruples against accepting American credits, while the oil and claims settlement of November 1941 had removed a major obstacle in the way of granting them. Preliminary discussion leading to the lend-lease agreement indicated a maximum credit of $29,000,000 would be provided, but in the final agreement of 27 March the credit advanced, at the express request of Mexico, was reduced to $10,000,000. A second lend-lease agreement, signed a year later on 18 March 1943, increased the original credit to $40,000,000.64

Although the coming of war to America had solved the question of financial credit, its effect upon the availability of war materials themselves was quite another story. From the beginning of the Latin American arms pro-


gram, and particularly after June 1940, scarcely any of the type of equipment desired by the Latin American nations had been available, and the attack on Pearl Harbor thoroughly disrupted the program. Mexico's requirements, and all like requests, were now subject to scrutiny under a new light.65  When the actual war needs of the United States itself were considered, the items that Mexico most needed appeared more than ever to be the very materials the United States could least afford to part with. Antiaircraft ammunition, planes, and machine guns were all insufficient for the United States' needs, and there were other commitments, with higher priority, that awaited fulfillment.

Nevertheless, as soon as the lend-lease agreement was signed and came into effect the flow of aid began. Small at first, it grew larger and larger until by the end of December 1946 a total of $39,000,000 in goods and services had been provided. Of this amount, the War Department's share came to $31,000,000.66

The joint defense commission, which for the first time sat as a formal commission four days before the official signing of the lend-lease agreement, became the board of first review for all Mexican lend-lease requests. The security of the Pacific coast and the construction of the Tehuantepec air base were the immediate objects of the commission's attention; then the commission turned to lend-lease matters. Three projects submitted to the Office of Lend-Lease Administration in April seem to have been indorsed, although not formally recommended, by the commission. They were, first, the rehabilitation of the Mexican railway system; second, a shipbuilding program designed to provide small coastal vessels; and third, the machinery, equipment, and funds for building a high-octane gasoline refinery. But the Lend-Lease Administration, holding strictly to the limitation that lend-lease projects must be "necessary for the war effort," declared these three proposals ineligible because they would be in the nature of public works or of commercial character.

Mexico's entry into the war, toward the end of May 1942, gave a new urgency to its defense requirements. At all the June meetings of the commission, and there were four of them, most of the discussion dealt with the details of getting planes and artillery and trucks and ammunition into the hands of the Mexican Army. On 27 June, having reconsidered its previous dictum, the Lend-Lease Administration suggested that a positive program of economic assistance to Mexico might be in order, namely that transportation facilities might be built up, east and west highways constructed, and docks and airfields improved.67 At the 11 September meeting of the defense com-


mission, General Castillo Najera stated that Mexico's lend-lease allotment had been increased to $70,000,000, and that the greater portion was to be applied "to land defenses, of which the railroads and highways are a part." 68 What the general had in mind, apparently, were the credits established by the Export-Import Bank as part of the November 1941 claims settlement, for the only increase made in the original lend-lease credits was that of March 1943 when the allotment was raised to $40,000,000.

The Lend-Lease Administration again turned reluctant when the defense commission seconded a request of the Mexican Government for machine tools and equipment to establish a munitions industry in the vicinity of Mexico City. Only a part of the munitions program-the proposed ordnance plant at Mexico City for the manufacture of 75-mm. shells-went beyond the discussion stage. Known as Military Project No. 1, recommended by the defense commission, approved by the American War and Navy Departments, and finally accepted by the Lend-Lease Administration in December 1943, it was 80 percent complete when the end of the war brought a sudden end to lend-lease deliveries in September 1945. The machinery, tools, and equipment to the amount of $1,000,000 that had been turned over to Mexico for the plant did not rust away unused. They were retained by the Mexican Government and installed in publicly operated plants.69 Two complementary projects-a factory for smokeless powder and a small arms factory-failed to receive the approval of the Lend-Lease Administration before the end of hostilities terminated lend-lease operations. Both had been strongly, though not formally, recommended by the joint defense commission.70

Almost half the aid Mexico received from the War Department, in dollar value, was in the form of airplanes. Including the twenty-five P-47's turned over to the Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron, a total of 305 aircraft of various types was provided for the use of the Mexican Army. Most of the planes were trainers, a few were patrol bombers. One of the very earliest lend-lease transactions with Mexico involved the transfer of five naval patrol bombers during the submarine blitz of March 1942. In the next year the War Department assigned thirty Douglas light bombers to Mexico for antisubmarine patrols and escort duties. The total value of the planes transferred by the War Department came to $14,619,440.71

Training programs for members of the Mexican armed forces, which had been instituted in 1942 at the various service 'schools in the United States, were an important segment of defense aid. They reached their peak in the twelve


months following 1 July 1943, when about 165 officers and men of the Mexican Army and Navy could be found enrolled at any time. The largest programs were at the two naval training schools, the Subchaser Training Center at Miami and the Air Training Center at Corpus Christi; somewhat smaller numbers, about fifty in all, were enrolled in the Army's flying schools, in aviation mechanics and Link trainer courses, and in logistics and supply schools.72 In 1944 the Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron began its training in the United States and the other pilot training programs were reduced accordingly. The costs of all the training programs were charged as lend-lease aid.73

Mexico and the Defense of California

American concern for the security of Mexico was intimately related to the extent and proximity of any threat to United States territory. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the security of Baja California became a matter of acute interest to the United States. Just as lend-lease was a manifestation of American interest in the security of Mexico, so the measures taken by General DeWitt and General Cardenas, singly and jointly for the defense of the United States' southwest and Mexico's northwest were concrete expressions of Mexican cooperation in the defense of the United States.

There were three fields of activity in which the defense of California involved joint action with Mexico: first, the placing of aircraft detector stations in Baja California; second, the building of airfields and highways there; and third, the formulation of joint plans by General DeWitt and General Cardenas.

The proposal to establish radar stations in Baja California grew out of a study made by the GHQ Air Force early in 1941, disclosing that vital areas in the southwest, near the Mexican boundary, could not be adequately covered either by a ground observation system or by radar detectors in American territory. "An enemy desiring to attack Southern California," a later Air Forces report stated, "may be expected to be aware of the limitations of our Aircraft Warning Service, and will make his approach over or from Mexican territory. " 74 The Air Forces therefore recommended taking steps to obtain Mexico's permission to establish at least two detector stations in Baja California. These views were brought to the attention of the War Plans Division sometime in April. Without denying the merits of the proposal, the War Plans Division informed the Army Air Forces that the moment was not propitious for discussing the subject with the Mexican staff representatives, then in Wash-


ington. The Air Forces continued to agitate the matter during the next three months, only to receive the same reply: "The War Department considers it inadvisable to submit to the Mexican representatives a request to station detachments of U.S. Army armed and uniformed forces in Mexican territory, as it is convinced that the Mexican Government would reject such a request at this time." 75 In framing the War Plans Division reply, Colonel Ridgway, then serving as one of the American staff representatives, noted, "there is no probability of securing Mexican consent . . . at least until an Axis attack is delivered or imminent." 76

No action was taken until 3 December 1941, four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, when the American staff representatives presented their Mexican colleagues with a proposal for an immediate reconnaissance of Sonora and Baja California for the purpose of locating sites for radar stations. Although it was agreed that the necessity of using the installations might never arise, the American representatives nevertheless proposed that the preliminary steps be taken at once and that small mixed groups of United States officers and Mexicans, in civilian clothes, should survey the area within two hundred miles of the border for access roads and radar sites.77  An appeal on 8 December brought a reply from President Avila Camacho the same day giving full permission to make the reconnaissance and install the radar stations. To the original purpose the Air Staff had, however, added that of investigating rumors of Japanese airfields and fuel caches. A separate party under Maj. A. P. Ebright conducted the Air Staff survey, entering Mexico on 16 December. An attempt by the War Department to identify the Ebright mission with the radar station reconnaissance no doubt contributed to the initial confusion and suspicion that attended it.78 Although no signs of enemy activity were uncovered, the Ebright party remained in Mexico until the end of January to investigate suitable sites for landing fields, to report on the availability of water and other supplies along the route of communications from the border south, and in general to add to the Army's store of information about the area.79 As the immediate post-Pearl Harbor frenzy subsided and as the scope and positions of the Ebright mission became clarified,


General DeWitt's Western Defense Command headquarters gave it firmer support against the continued skepticism at the headquarters of the Southern California Sector.80 Meanwhile, other groups had crossed the border, and had tentatively chosen sites for radar detector stations at Punta Salispuedes, 20 miles northwest of Ensenada; Punta San Jacinto, 125 miles south of Ensenada; and Punta Diggs on the northeast coast of the peninsula.

With all this activity going on, the issue that had threatened the negotiations over staging fields the previous summer-whether Mexico would permit the entry and stationing of armed and uniformed American soldiers promised to become a hardy perennial. On the earlier occasion, it had been solved by accepting the Mexican position, and when the proposal for the reconnaissance of Baja California was presented to the staff representatives on 3 December the wearing of civilian clothes by the soldiers making the survey was accepted by the American representatives as inescapable. The first draft of the instructions for `the reconnaissance, drawn up on 9 December for the Chief of the Army Air Forces, stated, "United States personnel will be limited to officers and they will wear civilian clothing," but at the suggestion of G-2, and with the concurrence of Colonel Ridgway, this particular restriction was deleted.81  Because of the United States' belligerent status, it was no longer appropriate. General DeWitt was especially insistent that no soldiers cross into Mexico unless in uniform and armed, but the point was not raised with Mexican representatives in Washington. Consequently, the Ebright group was turned back at the border and not permitted to cross until the men changed into civilian clothing and left their weapons behind. Sometimes, depending on the attitude of the local Mexican commanders, American parties were permitted to enter the country in uniform, but never under arms, and not even the excellent personal relations that existed between General DeWitt and General Cardenas could bring about a definite acceptance of the American view. The War Department as well as the Department of State took the position that, unsatisfactory though it might be to send American soldiers into Mexico in civilian clothes and without arms, to arrive at an impasse with Mexico and risk having permission to install the radar sets refused would be even more undesirable. Accordingly, on 20 December General DeWitt was authorized to accede to Mexican wishes in the matter. His efforts to obtain a less dangerous and more face-saving solution


continued but met with slight success.82 After the summer of 1942 this particular issue ceased to be a matter of record. The establishment of the radar stations, a diminution of American activity in Baja California, and the withdrawal of American personnel were probably responsible.

Two of the radar stations were set up and began operations during the first week in June 1942 and the third a month later. At each, one officer and twenty-five enlisted men were stationed to operate the set and train Mexican military personnel in its use. The equipment itself was turned over to the Mexican Army under lend-lease. By the end of August the Mexican troops had taken over the operation of the sets, and the Americans had withdrawn except for a small detachment of five men and one officer at each station.83 The coverage provided by the three sets was far from complete, but even as early as October 1942 the War Department was breathing more easily and saw no need to install additional equipment. 84 By the summer of 1943 retrenchment had become the order of the day in Baja California. All Americans were withdrawn from the radar stations except for one officer and three enlisted men, who were left in Ensenada primarily for liaison purposes. All requests for additional equipment had to be refused. By mid-May 1944 the Commanding General, Fourth Air Force, reported that he no longer considered the three radar stations necessary for the defense of California and, much to the dismay of both Navies, who wished to have the sets in operation for air-sea rescue work, operations ceased about the first of June. When, at a meeting of the defense commission, Admiral Johnson protested against a Mexican Army proposal to move the equipment to Mexico City, General Henry was obliged to state that the War Department's policy of retrenchment remained unchanged but that there would be no objection to the Navy's supplying and maintaining the operation of the sets. For the remainder of the war, the Army had no further responsibility in the matter. One station resumed operation with gasoline and oil supplied by the Navy. The


other two were moved away.85 During the two years they had been in operation, the stations performed a useful function. They had closed all but a small gap in the network around the San Diego-Los Angeles area. Anticipated language difficulties failed to materialize to any great extent, and valuable training in the use of highly technical equipment was given our Mexican ally.

As part of the general scheme of filling in the gaps in the defenses of California after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Fourth Air Force had strongly urged the building of three landing fields for pursuit planes in Baja California and two staging fields, one near Rosario and the other near La Paz. Time, and authority to use the fields for operations, were the important considerations. Both the War Department and the joint defense commission, when formally constituted, were agreed upon the desirability of the proposal, which the commission adopted as its Fourth Recommendation on 10 April 1942.86 After some backing and filling a joint survey got well under way and recommended three sites as primary airdromes-El Cipres, six miles south of Ensenada; Camalu, just south of San Jacinto; and Trinidad, about eighteen miles south of La Ventura. 87 Later, four other fields were surveyed. For three weeks at the end of June and in early July the War Department, on the advice of the joint defense commission, called a halt to all activity in connection with the airfields in order to give Mexican opinion time to crystallize and to give General Cardenas an opportunity to make a decision. After authority was given to proceed with the plans and estimates for the original five airfields, General Cardenas and especially General Juan Felipe Rico, the local Mexican commander, took hold of the project with enthusiasm and pushed not only the airfields but also a connecting highway down the peninsula. General DeWitt promised any help in materials and equipment that General Rico might need. The United States, General DeWitt thought, was committed to assist both projects, the roads as well as the airfields.88

By the beginning of 1943, the War Department had begun to cool, although the Fourth Air Force still urged that the three northern fields, at El


Cipres, Camalu, and Trinidad, be constructed and tied to San Diego by connecting roads. In March the War Department rejected General Rico's request for materials and equipment for the construction of the airfields. The Mexican section of the joint commission thus found itself in the position, in August, of arguing in favor of the United States Army undertaking a defense construction project on Mexican soil, while the American section was opposed. With the War Department unwilling to provide the construction materials because of the urgent needs of more active theaters of operations, the discussion became academic.89

In the field of joint planning, the Mexican experience took a contrary course to that of Canadian-United States planning. In the case of the latter a basic plan was drawn up by the Permanent Joint Board, and local joint plans, more detailed and specific, were subsequently completed in accordance with its general principles. With Mexico, on the other hand, the only joint plan completed during the war was the DeWitt-Cardenas plan of February-March 1942 for the defense of the Pacific coastal region. When later the joint defense commission undertook to draw up a plan, two of the members-Admiral Johnson and General Castillo Najera-understood that the commission was supposed to base its plan on the DeWitt-Cardenas agreements. A casual observer would perhaps have seen little in the local situation to indicate much success for the Western Defense Command planners. The local Mexican commanders either were uncertain of their authority to commit the federal government or were reluctant to accept instructions from Mexico City; the difficulties and delays in obtaining full permission for a reconnaissance in Baja California were inauspicious. But such an observer would have been wrong. Actually, the Mexican commanders made clear their willingness and desire to cooperate, and if they were reluctant to place their names to a document committing them to joint action, they made it plain by word of mouth that in an emergency they would call on General DeWitt to send American troops into Mexico.

In its final shape the plan represented a compromise between an earlier draft drawn up by General DeWitt's headquarters and one presented by General Cardenas.90 It provided for the patrol and defense of the two coastal areas-Mexican and American-by the forces of the respective countries, for an exchange of information between the two forces, and for the passage of troops of either country through the territory of the other; and it permitted


the forces of either country to operate in the other, in uniform and under arms. There were several provisions that failed to meet with the approval of General Cardenas. The Mexican commander could not agree to the control and operation of airfields and radar stations in Mexico by American personnel, and insisted that the forces of one country operating in the territory of the other be under the commander in whose area they were operating.91 Both generals agreed that the plan was sound from a "military standpoint" and that "the question from a nationalistic standpoint is one for the decision of the two governments." 92 The points on which the two commanders could not agree were accordingly turned over to the joint defense commission.

The American section thought it best to defer consideration of a general, basic plan until such specific matters as the radar stations and airfields were agreed upon, and when the draft of a basic plan was presented by Col. Lemuel Mathewson at the meeting of 21 April 1942, it was patterned after the Canada-United States Basic Defense Plan of 1940.93 Little progress had been made when Admiral Johnson, becoming chairman of the American section, suggested a fresh start and a new approach. This was in December 1942. The new scheme-to draw up a plan of collaboration, in ratification of the agreements reached by the commission, instead of a defense plan-was no more easily agreed upon than the old. General Henry, recently appointed senior Army member, took over the job of drafting a new plan in collaboration with General Alamillo of the Mexican section. Discussion during the meetings the following summer and fall reveal what seem to be a measure of impatience and perhaps satiation. The question of command proved to be the stumbling block, and by April 1944 General Henry was ready to abandon the attempt to write an acceptable plan. Finally, after more than two years of effort, the commission decided upon a "statement of general principles . . . which might serve as a basis for other plans of collaboration between any two nations." 94

In a broader sense, the wartime collaboration between the United States and Mexico cannot be measured adequately by the activity in Baja California, by the joint planning of General DeWitt and General Cardenas, by the deliberations of the defense commission, or by the airfields provided from Tampico to Tapachula. All of these might well have created dissension. But


from the early wartime experience came a closer bond between the two countries. The commendable combat record of the Mexican 201st Fighter Squadron on Luzon, the Mexican airmen who gave their lives in the same cause for which American fliers died, these were the true measure of the cooperation that began in 1941. There were indications that ties so strongly forged would not be lightly dropped. Although the joint defense commission had not been formally designated as a permanent body, plans were made at a staff conference in March 1945, at which the American members of the commission represented the United States, to continue the defense commission in the postwar years. The mutual confidence and respect between the two countries that developed out of their wartime association are proof that the New World can still serve as a beacon for the Old.



Previous Chapter        Next Chapter

Return to the Table of Contents


Page Updated 2 January 2003

Return to CMH Online