Air Defense Preparations in Latin America

As one important means of improving New World military ties, the Army had recommended in May 1938 that the United States Government take a more active hand in backing commercial aviation interests of the United States in Latin America.1 Following President Roosevelt's enunciation of the policy of hemisphere defense in November 1938, with its emphasis on air defense the military planners recognized that the Army must take a broader interest in Latin American air development.2  Thereafter during the prewar period, Army plans and preparations for air defense centered around the attainment of three major objectives in the Latin American area: elimination of commercial airlines owned, controlled, or manned by Axis nationals, and their replacement by United States or locally controlled companies; development of airfields and airway facilities of a nature that would permit the projection of American military airpower into strategic areas; and other preparations that would permit air operations to begin at once in the event of an actual or imminently threatened hostile air attack.

The American-controlled Pan American Airways system had achieved a dominant role in Latin American commercial aviation by 1938, largely without any official backing from the United States Government except that granted through substantial mail subsidies. Pan American operated all of the lines in the West Indian and Central American regions, and it had an international service that circled the South American continent. In South America its position was being vigorously and increasingly challenged, especially by airlines subsidized by the German and Italian Governments. The physical geography of Latin America, together with the meager development of other forms of transportation, made commercial aviation far more important there than in the United States or other parts of the Western World. Because of this dependence on aviation, Latin American governments and peoples were peculiarly susceptible to the influence that foreign aviation interests might


exercise. The stage was set for a struggle for control that was to be waged during the prewar period ostensibly by private commercial interests, but in reality by the United States Government and the aggressor nations of the Old World.3

The Control of Civil Aviation

The Army in June 1938 had again urged that it was "highly important that the United States Government . . . give close attention to the non-American aviation developments in Latin America, and that every reasonable effort be made to assist United States commercial aviation (or local or Latin American owned) interests when disadvantageous situations arise." Specifically, the Army proposed that the United States Government help American aviation interests by building airfields and improving their facilities, by establishing meteorological and weather stations, and by training Latin-American nationals in American civilian aviation schools.4  While Pan American had already shown its willingness to allow it facilities to be used by American military planes, as for example in the good-will flight of Flying Fortresses to Buenos Aires in February 1938, they were not adequate for normal military operations. Pan American airfields were not equipped for night flying and were too small for the larger types of military planes. If the United States wished to help local national airlines as a means of offsetting foreign competition, it would have to grant them direct or indirect subsidies.

The Department of State at this time was loath to agree to "any sort of policy which could be interpreted as evidence of a military interest of this Government in civil aviation in Latin America," although it admitted that some greater degree of support for American aviation might be desirable.5  The creation of the Civil Aeronautics Authority in July 1938, with powers to coordinate and administer all aviation policies, furnished both a vehicle for exploring what could and should be done with respect to Latin American aviation and an excuse for postponing the whole problem until the new authority was prepared to tackle it. The War Department's suggestions were effectively side-tracked until the following spring.6


President Roosevelt took the initiative in reopening the question of Latin American aviation in March 1939 by instructing Secretary of Commerce Hopkins to inform the Civil Aeronautics Authority of the "President's interest in the formulation of a broad plan for the expansion of aeronautics in the Western Hemisphere." 7 The Authority thereupon drafted a tentative plan, dated 29 March 1939, which had as its central feature the creation of a holding corporation in the United States, with subsidiaries in each of the Latin American countries, that would finance the purchase of all foreign-owned local airlines in each country and ultimately nationalize them. The United States Government, either directly or indirectly, would furnish the estimated capital of $25,000,000 necessary to accomplish this purpose.8  An interdepartmental discussion of the plan led to the creation of a special committee, with Mr. G. Grant Mason of the Civil Aeronautics Authority as chairman and with representatives from the War, Navy, and State Departments, to consider and revise these proposals. The revised plan was approved by all interested agencies between May and July 1939 and by President Roosevelt on 10 August. 9

The War Plans Division made an exhaustive study of the original Civil Aeronautics Authority plan and, though heartily agreeing with its primary objective of supporting American aviation interests and eliminating German and Italian, judged it faulty in many particulars and impracticable of achievement. The planners' main objections were that the plan did not provide for the "control of secure and suitable bases, the essential need for air operations in South America," and that it would not eliminate German and Italian international airlines, only the local services.10 The plan as revised dropped the idea of a holding corporation and in fact amounted to little more than an enumeration of objectives similar to those proposed by the Army in June 1938. After the President's approval of these objectives in August 1939, the Department of State took the lead in calling several meetings of the interdepartmental committee established in the spring. The conferees agreed at meetings on 1 and 5 September 1939 that the United States should actively promote the ownership of all feeder airlines in Latin America either by American or by bona fide locally owned companies. They also agreed that the Department of State should take the initiative through diplomatic chan-


nels to work toward this goal. Very little more was actually done before the critical events of May 1940 stimulated specific and immediate action.11

During 1939 the Army was immediately concerned over the airline situation in Colombia, where the local SCADTA feeder system was largely manned and ostensibly controlled by Germans.12  Actually, Pan American had purchased an 84 percent interest in SCADTA as early as 1931 but kept its connection secret from the Colombian and the United States Governments until January 1939. Even when Pan American's control became known, the American company was reluctant to liquidate the German operation of the system. Both the Army and the Department of State considered continued German operation highly inimical to the national interest of the United States because of Colombia's proximity to the Panama Canal. This was one problem tackled by a subcommittee of the interdepartmental air committee in the fall of 1939, and with eventual success. Pan American publicly acknowledged its ownership and started to purge SCADTA of its German personnel in November 1939. In June 1940 Pan American, in collaboration with Department of State and Colombian authorities, was able to eliminate most of the German influence and establish a new company, AVIANCA,. jointly owned by Pan American and the Colombian Government. In the meantime, German pilots and other workers who were released from SCADTA set up another airline, ARCO, which was bought out by AVIANCA in 1941 after the War and State Departments had promised to repay Pan American for the expense that it had incurred in "de-Germanizing" the Colombian airlines.13

Pan American held a two-thirds interest in AVIANCA after June 1940, although the arrangement made between the Colombian and United States Governments called for eventual nationalization of the line through majority stock ownership by the Colombian Government or Colombian citizens. The


promise to reimburse AVIANCA led to an involved negotiation between the War Department and Pan American. The Army wanted some further assurances before it paid off this obligation, including the dismissal of all German employees (some of whom were employed in office work as late as December 1941), an agreement that AVIANCA's airport facilities would be available for military use if necessary, and a pledge by the Colombian Government to AVIANCA that it would not charter any new airline that would pose further complications. The Army was concerned on this latter score because many of the dismissed German pilots and other employees were still in Colombia at the end of 1941; both Colombia and the United States had wanted to ship them back to Germany, but the British had strenuously objected since they had more than enough German pilots to deal with already. In the spring of 1942 the Germans were interned either in Colombia or in the United States. After Pearl Harbor Colombia agreed to permit Pan American to retain majority ownership of AVIANCA until 1944, thereby giving the United States a more effective control over the Colombian air situation. Colombia was also prepared in 1942 to permit American military planes to use its airports in essential hemisphere defense operations. Thus assured, in August 1942 the United States agreed to pay Pan American from Army funds a sum of nearly $1,000,000 for the de-Germanization of Colombian airlines carried out during 1940 and 1941.14

A different method of eliminating German aviation in Latin America was used in neighboring Ecuador. Though the German-owned local line in Ecuador, SEDTA, operated with only two obsolete transports as its "fleet," it provided an indispensable service to Ecuador's economy. When SEDTA in May 1940 applied for a permit to establish a service from the mainland to the Galapagos Islands, in which the United States had already indicated its strategic interest, the American government was moved to action. President Roosevelt in June authorized the loan of funds to Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra), Pan American's associate, to enable it to establish a competing line. Panagra inaugurated its service in December 1940, with equipment and service superior to that provided by the German line. Nevertheless, SEDTA managed to operate a reduced service until Ecuador requisitioned its planes and property in September 1941. The Army contributed to the desired end not only by backing the Panagra line but also by establishing an


Ecuadoran Air Mission and allocating enough money to it to permit the mission to help in the improvement of Ecuadoran airfield facilities.15

The ousting of German aviation from Colombia and Ecuador was a noteworthy gain for the security of the Panama Canal, but only a halting step toward the broader goal of eliminating all Axis influence in Latin American aviation. To achieve this goal required the formulation and execution of a much more systematic aviation policy and program for Latin America than that followed by the United States to the beginning of 1941. President Roosevelt was dissatisfied with what had been accomplished during 1940, and it was probably at his instigation that Mr. Rockefeller, the Coordinator of Commercial and Cultural Relations Between the American Republics, proposed expansion of the authority of the Civil Aeronautics Board so that it could, under the supervision of a new interdepartmental committee, carry out an effective de-Germanization program designed to supplant all Axis-controlled airlines by American or locally controlled companies.16 The War Department promptly indorsed Mr. Rockefeller's proposal, and the Chief of Staff in doing so stated:

The matter is one of vital importance to national defense. We all agree that German controlled airlines in South America provide Germany with the means for spreading Nazi propaganda, for communication with German agents and sympathizers in South America, and for familiarizing German military personnel with South American terrain. They also provide bases which would be of great strategic value to an invader. Consequently, these airlines constitute a definite threat to the security of the United States in the event of war with Germany.17

While Mr. Rockefeller's proposal was still under consideration, the President directed the Postmaster General to consult with representatives of all interested government agencies in the formulation of a general policy toward commercial aviation. At a meeting on 19 February the conferees decided that the Army and Navy should study the question and make recommendations. The Army's representative thereupon drafted a recommendation on general aviation policy and obtained Navy and State Department concurrences. This policy statement, which the President approved in early March, became the basis for effective action in eliminating Axis influence from Latin American commercial aviation. With respect to Latin America, the new policy pro-


vided that: (1)the United States Government would oppose the establishment of any new services by United States airlines south of Mexico City that would be in competition with Pan American; (2) until European-controlled airlines in Latin America were eliminated, no action should be taken to lessen the strength and effectiveness of the Pan American Airways system as an instrument in accomplishing their elimination; and (3), while the needs of the armed services must have priority on airplane equipment and personnel during the emergency, subject to this qualification all government agencies should lend all possible assistance to the Department of State "in the elimination of European controlled airlines in the Western Hemisphere south of the United States, and in replacing them by United States controlled airlines." 18

After approval of the new policy, the Department of State took the lead in arranging for allocation from emergency funds of money to finance the nationalization of airlines in central and southern South America and in trying to obtain assurances from the Army that planes for the airlines would be forthcoming. It also formulated a new plan that called for the application of the Colombian precedent to the rest of South America-that is, the establishment of new companies jointly controlled by American and local-national ownership. The Bureau of the Budget, with the President's approval, allocated $8,000,000 in April to pay for de-Germanization measures. Instead of enlarging the authority of the Civil Aeronautics Board to administer these measures, as Mr. Rockefeller had proposed (and as the new statement of aviation policy had also recommended), the American Republics Aviation Division was set up in the Defense Supplies Corporation, a subsidiary of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The division became responsible both for disbursement of funds and for provision of airplanes and technicians to American and locally owned Latin American airlines.19

Because of the shortage of transport planes, the Army in the spring of 1941 was attempting to secure the curtailment of airlines in the United States and to obtain their planes for Army use. Despite the shortage the Army promised in April to release five planes to equip a new Panagra subsidiary in Bolivia and soon thereafter committed itself to furnishing four more planes to permit de-Germanization of the VASP line in Brazil.20  It also promised to furnish pilots for the Bolivian operation by releasing Reserve officers then


on active duty with the Air Corps and to continue its practice of allowing graduates of the Air Corps Advanced Flying School to volunteer for service as pilots with Pan American and its subsidiaries. 21 In June the Army decided to purchase for Army Air Corps use all German planes from discontinued lines in order to eliminate any possibility of their future employment in Latin America. Negotiations toward this end were still in progress on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Thereafter, the almost solid front of the Americas made possible the application of more direct methods of putting an end to all German aviation activity.22

The United States Government during 1940 and 1941 backed the Pan American Airways system as the vehicle for obtaining air control in Latin America for reasons of military necessity rather than of choice. In November 1940 General Marshall and .Admiral Stark told Under Secretary of State Welles that they regarded active support of Pan American as essential to the national defense, and it was on this basis only that Mr. Welles agreed "to back Pan American to the limit." 23  Of necessity, too, backing Pan American meant the strengthening of its monopoly in the Latin American field.

The problem of American airline competition amidst defense preparations had come to the fore in Central America in the fall of 1940. A local British-owned airline, TACA, had applied for permission to extend its service to the commercial landing field in the Panama Canal Zone. Behind this application was a broader scheme of American Export Airlines, which contracted in October 1940 to purchase TACA, and which planned to connect its local airlines with the continental United States as well as to extend them throughout the Caribbean area. Pan American met this challenge by fighting the TACA-American Export project before the Civil Aeronautics Board and by establishing feeder lines in Central America that duplicated TACA's services. This fight between competing American airlines in a sensitive hemisphere defense zone presented both soldiers and diplomats with a complicated situation requiring difficult policy decisions. 24


The military services and the Department of State had at first opposed TACA's request to enter the Canal Zone, since the entry of foreign-owned airlines into the Zone was contrary to existing policy. In June 1940 General Van Voorhis, commander of the Panama Canal Department, urged reconsideration. He stated that the owner of TACA was strongly pro-ally and pro-American and that most of the airline's employees were Americans. Even more to the point was TACA's control of a network of landing fields-115 of them in actual service-throughout the five Central American republics, many of which were equipped with radio facilities. In view of these facts, TACA held a position in which it could render invaluable assistance in surveillance and in aiding Army air operations. To win TACA's support by granting it the right of entry into the Canal Zone made excellent common sense to General Van Voorhis.25

When the American Export Company proposed to buy TACA, the State, War, and Navy Departments all approved the move, and they decided also to approve TACA's entry into the Canal Zone as soon as the company had been Americanized. Among other reasons, the War Department specifically approved American Export's proposed purchase of TACA because it promised to lead to competition between two large American companies in Latin American commercial aviation. In late December 1940 the Army gave an American Export representative cautious assurances that the Pan American contract signed the preceding month did not commit the War Department to back Pan American exclusively in other directions.26  The evident blessing being bestowed by agencies of the United States Government on TACA induced Pan American to redouble its efforts to eliminate its Central American competitor altogether. Pan American succeeded in ousting TACA from Guatemala and so handicapped its position elsewhere that it appeared to the Army that American Export might lose interest in its acquisition. The Army and the Navy continued throughout 1941 to advocate the purchase of TACA by American Export, or its Americanization by other means. But after the enunciation of a Latin American air policy in March 1941, with its caveat against backing any new American competition with Pan American south of Mexico City until Axis-controlled lines had been eliminated in South America, the military services felt obliged to oppose American Export's application for a through route between New Orleans and the Canal Zone. The establishment


of such a trunk line was as basic to the American Export interest as it was antipathetic to that of Pan American Airways, for it would have linked up with Panagra, which was showing increasing irritation over its family connection with Pan American. 27

American Export's application to acquire TACA was finally disapproved by the Civil Aeronautics Board on 4 December 1941, though not on the ground of its threat of competition with Pan American Airways. Nevertheless, prompted by continued urgings from the War Department, the board on 24 December approved TACA's entry into the Canal Zone.28  This action, together with the Army's more or less open partiality toward TACA, assured that airline's continued cooperation with the military authorities in Panama during the war. The position of the services and of the Department of State toward the American Export-Pan American contest had also indicated rather clearly that they would have preferred to foster competition among American airline companies in Latin America if the exigencies of the prewar situation had permitted such action.

Axis-controlled aviation at the beginning of 1941 had centered in Brazil, from which it radiated southward and westward to the Pacific coast. The German CONDOR line, serving the Brazilian coast and the interior of southern South America, was old and well-established. Transatlantic flying in 1941 was limited to a weekly service provided by the Italian LATI line, which operated from Europe via the Cape Verdes to Natal and Rio de Janeiro-a service patronized largely by Axis agents. From Natal southward along the Brazilian coast, LATI and the Vichy-dominated Air France company controlled airfield facilities that menaced American hemisphere defense projects in Brazil and posed an acute menace to British shipping and the maintenance of the British patrol against Axis shipping in the South Atlantic. In the spring of 1941 both CONDOR and LATI were under strong suspicion of performing more or less regular reconnaissance off the coast to spot British naval vessels and guide Axis ships through the British blockade. LATI's suddenly increased activity on the transatlantic route in June and July coincided with a heightened German submarine campaign against British shipping in the southern Atlantic and there was good reason to believe that Axis submarines were being guided by LATI's planes. During the last week of June 1941, six Axis merchant vessels carrying strategic war materials left


Brazil to run the British blockade, again coincident with LATI's increased amount of flying across the ocean. The United States Army believed that this direct menace to the British war effort must be stopped.29

To deal with this situation, the United States put CONDOR and LATI on its 17 July 1941 blacklist of Latin American firms with which American companies were forbidden to trade. Since the Germans had a supply of new planes and spare parts, which had been run through the British blockade in the spring of 1941, this move had little immediate effect. At the urging of the United States the Brazilian Government in October began to move toward taking over CONDOR and LATI, but it was reluctant to suspend their operations until the United States was prepared to furnish substitute services. When the Army's Ferrying Command operations by way of the South Atlantic were inaugurated in November, the continued operation by hostile airlines of airport ground facilities, including radio transmitters and meteorological services, became intolerable.30

With Brazilian cooperation, both LATI and CONDOR were forced out of business in December 1941. The Ferrying Command agreed in January 1942 to purchase the seven LATI planes as soon as the Brazilian Government requisitioned them. Brazilian interests with government backing reorganized CONDOR, and the new company was permitted to resume operations in April. At the end of 1942 German and Italian equipment was still in use on a number of local airlines in southern South America, but all vestiges of Axis control had disappeared.31

In retrospect, while the de-Germanization program had been slow in getting under way, it had achieved the desired results by the time that the United States openly entered the war. Axis aviation had been virtually eliminated and supplanted by American or locally owned services. While the small number (about forty) and obsolete character of the German transport planes and their comparatively rudimentary ground facilities had never constituted a really serious menace, indirectly German aviation interests had been able to exert an influence out of all proportion to their size in planes and personnel through propaganda and the maintenance of communications with axis diplomats and agents. Conceivably, too, the extensive German control of airfield installations could have been used to facilitate a German air invasion. In 1941 Axis-dominated commercial aviation was one of Ger-


many's strongest weapons in Latin America to combat American hemisphere defense plans and measures, and its elimination marked a huge forward stride in safeguarding the hemisphere against possible Axis attack.

The Airport Development Program

The Pan American Airways organization made its principal contribution to hemisphere defense preparations by developing airfields in the Latin American nations for United States Army and Navy use. This work began in the autumn of 1940, under what became known as the Airport Development Program, but it had its origins in the military planning of 1939, specifically in the plan to establish a major United States air base in Puerto Rico.32  Air traffic to and from this base would normally have to make use of intermediate airfields between the United States and Puerto Rico. Existing Pan American facilities at Camaguey, Cuba, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, could be used, but they would have to be substantially improved. The Army also wanted to station small detachments of mechanics and communications specialists at each of the fields. By September 1939 the Air Corps and General Staff had agreed upon the facilities and services needed and on the necessity of providing them as soon as possible. At the outset, the Department of State refused to consider the lease or operation of such facilities by the Army, and on 6 November 1939 a Department of State spokesman also expressed opposition "to the installation and operation of these facilities by any United States Government agency." Instead he suggested that a private American company such as Pan American Airways might undertake the necessary work and operations under contract. When the Army brought the subject up again in January 1940, the Department of State agreed that it might be willing to go ahead and make suitable arrangements for the facilities desired either directly with the Cuban and Haitian Governments or with a private company. Further prodding by the War Department failed to obtain any action until May 1940. The agitation of the question during the preceding year had nevertheless narrowed down the probable choice of means to that of selecting a private company to do the work.33

The immediate need for the Puerto Rican air route merged during the fall and winter of 1939-40 with the more far-reaching plan for development


of alternate air routes to the Brazilian bulge. This plan envisaged establishment of the principal air route to Brazil via Puerto Rico, Martinique, Trinidad, and Dutch Guiana, with a secondary route from Texas via Panama and the Colombian and Venezuelan coasts. General Emmons, Commanding General, General Headquarters Air Force, who led a flight of bombers to the Natal area in November 1939, reported that it was well suited to intensive development for Air Corps operations. By using existing airfields the Army could fly medium and heavy bombers to Natal, but not shorter-range planes. To permit the movement of all types of Army aircraft to the Brazilian bulge, General Emmons held that it was essential to develop a chain of airfields with necessary supporting facilities for land planes along both routes.34  While this project would require new facilities of many sorts, the existing terminals and organization of the Pan American Airways system provided an essential basis for further development. In a separate report, Lt. Col. Robert Olds, who accompanied General Emmons on the Brazilian flight, stressed the advantages of using the Pan American system:

The economic and military value of the Panagra-Pan American Airways System to the United States in its broad concept of hemispherical defense cannot be overestimated .... The concentration . . . of Air Force units From North America into South America will depend solely under existing circumstances upon the full utilization of Pan American facilities . . . . Whether in the form of a government subsidy or in the form of direct installations on a rental basis, it is mandatory that certain existing facilities of the Pan American System be augmented along the east coast of South America to insure the rapid concentration of American Air Forces in the defense of the critical Natal area.35

The final selection of Pan American Airways as the instrument for carrying out a program of airfield construction in Latin America was made only after a new exploration of alternative methods of doing the work. At an interdepartmental conference on 15 May 1940, called specifically to consider the immediate problem of developing an air route to Puerto Rico, the conferees agreed that the method selected for this work should be one that would be generally applicable to the larger Latin American airfield program. The solution tentatively decided upon was the establishment of a new government-subsidized corporation that would construct airfields and provide necessary technical facilities for their military use; then, after construction had been completed, the Army would make a supplemental contract with Pan American to provide for fuel and for the servicing of planes. The execution of the plan would require new legislation since the judge Advocate General held that the Army could not legally loan its equipment to a corporation of the sort proposed. 36


Further study of the problem during the following week produced four alternative schemes for consideration. Listed in their order of desirability, they were: (1) the creation of a new United States Government agency, to operate under direct supervision of the Civil Aeronautics Authority; (2) a contract with Pan American Airways to do all the work; (3) the establishment of a new private corporation, as tentatively recommended the preceding week; and (4) contracts with the national governments concerned. While the planners would have preferred the first alternative, they pointed out that that solution would also require new legislation expanding the powers of the Civil Aeronautics Authority and permission of each nation concerned as well. In view of the absolute necessity under the new strategic situation of providing facilities as soon as possible, they therefore recommended adoption of the Pan American Airways scheme. In early June the Department of State agreed to present the question to the President for decision and did so by a letter dated 10 June. Sometime between then and 1 July, the President authorized the Army to go ahead with the Pan American project and to finance it with money from his recently voted Emergency Fund.37

In the meantime, the joint Planning Committee had reviewed the whole problem of Latin American air facilities required for the execution of hemisphere defense plans, and on 24 June it submitted a report that became the primary guide for defining the scope and objectives of the subsequent Pan American contract. The report specified the airfields to be developed, and it stated that the fields were to be located along the coast rather than inland in order to facilitate their supply and the movement of land forces and equipment for their protection and also to permit Navy planes to use them. At the major fields, the runways should be able to accommodate all types of Army planes; adjacent facilities were to be provided for the operation of large Navy patrol planes. In addition, each major field should have auxiliary communications, meteorological, servicing, and storage facilities.38

Four months of intricate negotiations preceded the signing of the contracts of 2 November 1940 with Pan American Airways. The effort to keep the project a secret was a partial failure almost from the beginning. On 10 July 1940 the Washington Post reported that the President had authorized the expenditure of emergency funds for a Latin American airport program to be carried out by Pan American Airways. "The plan," continued this Post report, "is to have the airline do what the Government itself cannot accomplish without endless red tape and time-consuming diplomatic negotiation,


by establishing a series of ultra-modern airports equipped with service, maintenance, and repair facilities." To conceal its official hand the Army called upon a retired officer, Col. John H. Jouett, president of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce, to serve as contract coordinator in negotiations with Pan American and its legal representatives. In late September ill health forced Colonel Jouett to withdraw from this position, but by then the Pan American contracts were practically in final form.39

Pan American Airways at the outset accepted responsibility for the Latin American airport construction program with some reluctance. It had neither the organization nor the experience to undertake a large-scale construction program, and it also foresaw the possibility of unfavorable repercussions in Latin America if it became identified with a government-subsidized project undertaken for military purposes. On the other hand the introduction on 4 July of new stratoliner land planes on Pan American's international services to Latin America gave the company an interest in airfield improvements for purely commercial reasons. After Pan American had made a preliminary study of the feasibility and cost of the project, Army and Navy representatives on 19 July gave its officials a "go ahead" signal to proceed with arrangements for undertaking the work. When Pan American's president, Mr. Juan Trippe, requested the immediate assignment of Army and Navy inspectors to supervise these arrangements, he was told that the War Department "had complete confidence in the ability of Pan Air to decide questions as to construction, etc.," and that there would be no military supervision until after construction commenced.40

By early September the Army, the Navy, and Pan American had agreed upon plans and contractual arrangements that were mutually satisfactory. General Marshall thereupon recommended the provision of $12,000,000 to finance the airfield project and backed his recommendation with the opinion that "the immediate conclusion of the PAA contract is now more essential to our national defense than any other single matter." 41 On 13 September President Roosevelt approved the allocation of $12,000,000 from the Emergency Fund voted by Congress the preceding June. Legal and financial details continued to delay official consummation of the Pan American contract for some weeks thereafter, although the Army assumed that the airline was going


ahead with preliminary surveys and was securing the requisite approvals from Latin American governments. On 24 October the Department of State gave its official approval to the Pan American project, and in doing so explained:

It is the opinion of the State Department that to handle this matter on the basis of negotiating treaties with the various countries concerned would be either impracticable of complete accomplishment, or would involve delays of such duration as might be fatal to adequate preparations to meet the present critical international situation. For that reason, the project for the development of this work by the Pan American Company under the direction of the War and Navy Departments appears to the Department of State the most practicable method of achieving the desired results.42

To do the airfield construction work in Latin America, Pan American Airways set up a new company, the Pan American Airports Corporation, which engaged solely in undertaking the construction program prescribed and paid for by the United States Government. The War Department contracted directly with the Pan American Airports Corporation for the construction. Pan American Airways, Inc., the parent company, simultaneously executed a separate contract with its new subsidiary to cover supervision of the latter's work. The parent company and its operating subsidiaries also conducted all negotiations with Latin American governments for the necessary leases and work permits. Pan American signed the contracts for the airfield work on 2 November, and the next day Secretary of War Stimson added his signature to the War Department contract with the Pan American Airports Corporation.43

During the negotiation of the Pan American contract the War Plans Division exercised staff control over the course of the transaction. With the signature of the contract, control passed to the G-4 Division of the War Department General Staff, which supervised its execution until February 1942, when the Army Air Forces assumed control. The contract provided for the appointment of an Army deputy contracting officer to maintain liaison with Pan American and exercise general supervision over the airfield project. The post was filled by an officer detailed from the New York offices of the Corps of Engineers, who submitted monthly progress reports to the War Department. During 1941 the Army also sent a few officers into the field to inspect progress of the work and report any deficiencies or particular problems. Nevertheless, Pan American was given a generally free hand to carry out the program until after the entry of the United States into war.


The Pan American contract called for a payment of $12,000,000 for the construction or improvement before 30 June 1942 of facilities at twenty-five locations and for maintenance of these facilities and supply of fuel during the construction period. Several site changes were subsequently made for political reasons. The War Department planned originally to have Pan American build airfields in Trinidad and British Guiana.44  Pan American actually did some work on a seaplane base in Trinidad, but all work on the landing fields in the British bases was done by the Corps of Engineers after Pan American had made some preliminary surveys. A major base had also been planned for Martinique, but the continued adhesion of Martinique to the Vichy regime made this project impracticable. Alternative bases were eventually provided by the Army at Antigua and St. Lucia. The Army also assumed responsibility for constructing the airfield at David, Panama. Thus, under the original contract, Pan American actually built new airfields or improved existing ones at twenty-one sites: on the principal West Indies-Brazil route, on airfields in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Dutch Guiana, and at eight Brazilian sites; and along the secondary Texas-Panama-northern South American route, at three locations in Mexico, one each in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia, and three in Venezuela. By the end of February 1941 construction was in progress at five of these fields. On the eve of Pearl Harbor the field construction program was estimated to be only 38 percent complete, with only five landing fields and two seaplane bases reported as much as 80 percent finished. Nevertheless many of the fields were then in usable condition and were being used by the Army and the Navy, and the progress report for November 1941 forecast that all work under the original program would be completed by 30 April 1942, two months before the date specified in the contract.45

On several occasions during 1941 the War Department expressed dissatisfaction with the seemingly slow progress of the Airport Development Program. The War Plans and G-4 Divisions of the General Staff both made known their impatience to the Engineers in March 1941. In response, the deputy contracting officer cited the "necessary slowness in negotiating with the various governments in Latin America" and the difficulties that Pan American had met in placing orders for construction equipment and materials.46 Another and perhaps more important reason lay in the difficulty in


getting competent engineer supervisors and civilian labor and keeping them working efficiently at field locations. For example, at the Dutch Guiana base of Paramaribo, where separate landplane and seaplane facilities were being provided, the work encountered unusual supervisory difficulties and was also plagued by heavy rains and other adverse effects of the tropical environment. Although construction at Paramaribo began in February 1941, with an initial forecast of completion by 30 August 1941, the landplane base was only 12 percent complete by that date. Initially, considerable time was consumed in assembling equipment and training native employees in its efficient use.47 Thereafter, a long delay ensued because of drainage problems that the engineer in charge of construction was apparently not competent to solve. Meanwhile, the rainy season set in, making continuous work difficult. Engineering problems and the weather appear to have overwhelmed the supervising engineer, who more and more frequently "was seen in town, rather than at the field, and usually intoxicated . . . . At the same time he appears to have had more and more trouble with his labor, including a short strike, largely because he left others in charge." 48 Such supervisory difficulties were not unique in tropical environments. The work at Guatemala City was at first very poorly organized and managed. "This condition," reported the deputy contracting officer, "was corrected early in June by the dismissal of the engineer-in-charge of that job and the substitution of a construction superintendent who has proved to be very efficient and well qualified." 49  In September 1941 the War Department registered a formal complaint with Pan American about the unsatisfactory progress of the airport program; while acknowledging the many difficulties the airline had encountered, it nevertheless urged the necessity of speeding work at all fields. 50

In Brazil, where the construction program was carried out under the supervision of Pan American's local subsidiary, Panair do Brazil, work was particularly slow in getting under way despite the strategic importance of Brazil in hemisphere defense plans and the high priority accorded to Brazilian construction in the original airways plan.51 Pan American failed to complete more than 40 percent of the construction work on any of the Brazilian land fields before the entrance of the United States into the war, although several of the fields had usable runways. When the Air Forces proposed in the fall of 1941 to arrange with Pan American for the construction of additional facilities in Brazil, the War Plans Division expressed opposition not only because of the reluctance of Brazil to cooperate more wholeheartedly in


defense plans but also because "Pan American's performance under the contract has been so slow and of such a nature that additional construction at sites now included under the Pan American contract should be undertaken through Pan American only if no other solution is possible." 52

When the Air Forces renewed its recommendation for an expansion of Latin American airport facilities after the United States entered the war, the G-4 Division urged that much closer supervision of the current Airport Development Program be carried out than had theretofore been customary and that "any new work not included in the original contract or its pending modification be undertaken by some means other than further modification of the existing contract with Pan American Airports Corporation." 53 But after the transfer of supervisory control to the Chief of the Army Air Forces on 4 February 1942, the Chief of Engineers notified him "that it had been determined under existing diplomatic arrangements with South America that the only feasible method to prosecute this work was through Pan American." 54  After February 1942 the Army Engineers maintained much closer supervision over Pan American's contract work, and the Department of State in March 1942 facilitated supervision by formally notifying the governments concerned of the interest of the United States Government in the airport construction program.55

The expansion of the original Pan American contract began in May 1941 with a War Department authorization to Pan American to construct an airfield near Cayenne, French Guiana. Pan American wanted this field for commercial reasons and the Army wanted it because of the 440-mile gap between Zandery Field in Dutch Guiana and the first Brazilian field at Amapá — a gap notable for its bad flying weather. Local French authorities, though loyal to Vichy, also wanted the airfield built, and for several months during 1941 they successfully cooperated with Pan American to conceal its identity as the constructor and prospective user of the Cayenne airfield. Nazi pressure through the Vichy Government finally led to the removal of the local French governor who had pushed the project, and work on the Cayenne airfield was suspended in August 1941.56

Primarily for political reasons, the Army agreed during 1941 to add a limited airport program for Paraguay and Bolivia to the Pan American contract. The War Plans Division consistently opposed any military airfield pro-


gram for southern South America as being unnecessary under current war plans or under any likely development of the strategic situation. Nevertheless, the Chief of Staff yielded to Department of State requests that this work be undertaken, partly because the Air Corps favored it and partly because he himself believed that airfield development in Paraguay and Bolivia was preferable to the alternative of supplying them with Army munitions. In May President Roosevelt approved the expenditure of an additional $2,000; 000 of emergency funds for airfields in Paraguay and Bolivia, and two months later G-4 was authorized to contract with Pan American for work on two fields in each country.57  A Department of State proposal that the Army lend similar backing to an airport development scheme in Uruguay met with a different response. Current military plans and the existing war situation did not envisage any possible Army air operations as far south as Uruguay. Although the Air Forces looked upon the Uruguayan project with some favor, the General Staff successfully opposed an extension of the Pan American contract to include it, and the staff also opposed the expenditure of War Department lend-lease funds to do the work by other means.58

The basic Pan American contract of 2 November 1940 was revised a year later to include the Paraguayan and Bolivian airfield work and to provide additional funds for speeding construction at the sites originally chosen, for new facilities at these airfields, and for other purposes. This revision increased the allotment of emergency funds for the Airport Development Program before Pearl Harbor from $12,000,000 to $19,000,000.59 Soon after the United States entered the war, the Army Air Forces proposed a further expansion of the airfield program, primarily to increase the capacity of the South Atlantic airway via Brazil. For some weeks the War Plans Division and General Headquarters opposed any major expansion of Brazilian airfield facilities unless assurances were obtained that this airway could be properly defended. 60 The improvement in the war outlook and in Brazilian-American relations overcame these objections, and the Air Forces after assuming supervisory control over the airfield program in February 1942 proceeded to expand it in Brazil and elsewhere. By the end of June 1942 a total of about $33,000,000 had been allotted to Pan American contract work on airfields in Latin America.61


Thereafter during the wartime years the United States Army continued to depend primarily on Pan American Airways for the development and maintenance of airfields in the Latin American nations in which the airline had undertaken construction work for military purposes before Pearl Harbor. By midsummer of 1944, when the airfield construction program was virtually complete, Pan American had built new airfields or improved existing facilities at forty different locations, including the development of sixteen landplane and five seaplane bases in Brazil and of eight landplane bases in Mexico. The construction costs of airfields included in the Airport Development Program amounted eventually to more than $90,000,000, and by the summer of 1945 the Army had also paid Pan American more than $10,000,000 for maintenance of the airfields. Considerably more than half of this money was expended on airfield construction and maintenance work in Brazil, primarily to provide facilities for the tremendous volume of air traffic that flowed to and from the fighting fronts of the Old World .62

The Latin American airfield program was only one segment of the worldwide services rendered by Pan American Airways to the military prosecution of the war. During 1942 Pan American devoted more than 60 percent of its greatly expanded facilities to the performance of services for the United States Army and Navy, and it was paid a total of about $59,000,000 for its services during that year.63 After 1941 the War Department never questioned the fact that by means of the Pan :American contracts the United States Army and Navy had obtained a military airways system in Latin America more readily and more cheaply than could have been provided in any other manner.64  The airfields built by Pan American were sufficiently ready at the end of 1941 to permit the immediate reinforcement of the Panama Canal defenses and in 1942 to cope with the submarine menace in the Caribbean and South Atlantic; and they helped to provide the United Nations with their most vital airway link during 1942 and 1943.

Beyond its immediate worth to the war effort, the Airport Development Program provided facilities of permanent value to hemisphere relations and defense. General Marshall had emphasized this point in informal remarks at a meeting in April 1941: "Airfields throughout South America are an asset to us for military use and for future trade relations. Anything we can do now toward providing airfields is an enduring thing and not a venture .... A


great deal of money had better be concentrated to develop airfields all over the place. That is something that will help us in the long run . . . . It makes the best kind of common sense." 65  Though in practice the Army confined itself to sponsoring the development of airfields actually needed for defense and for the prosecution of the war, its association with Pan American produced many airfield facilities that were an important contribution to the peacetime ties and relationships among the American nations.

Preparing for Air Operations

To make full use of the airfields and airways being developed by Pan American in Latin America, the Army needed certain privileges and services that it was only partially successful in obtaining before the United States entered the war. It needed the greatest possible freedom to move its planes over the territory of the Latin American nations and to land planes within their territory. It needed communications and meteorological services to guide the planes, and at airfields it needed trained mechanics to service them and supplies of aviation gasoline to fuel them. A War Plans Division study of September 1941 explained:

The use of air power in counter-air-force action is the only manner in which the requirement for speed and mobility {can} be met over the great distances involved in the defense of this Hemisphere. But modern aircraft require prepared airdromes from which to operate and base facilities to include, at the very least, the spotting of, in advance, gasoline, oil, machine gun ammunition, and bombs .... Runways and material are required before the need for them actually exists, for when airborne aggression strikes, there will then not be time to provide these necessities.66

The advance spotting of bombs and ammunition at airfields would have required a military guard, and that in turn would have given the airfields the character of military bases. Except in Panama, the Army was to find that it could not establish new military bases anywhere in the territory of the Latin American nations until after Pearl Harbor.

An early 1941 proposal to store bombs at two Venezuelan airports illustrates the political difficulties besetting advance preparations for air defense. The United States Navy suddenly became concerned over the safety of the oil installations on the islands of Aruba and Curacao and asked the Army to store airplane bombs at nearby Venezuelan airfields from which Army bombers could attack hostile vessels in the area. The Army considered the Venezuelan airfields too far from Panama and Puerto Rico to permit bomb-loaded flights to them in an emergency. The Chief of the Air Corps started


a shipment of bombs for this purpose to Panama even before the Army took up with the Department of State the problem of securing Venezuelan consent to storing the bombs at the La Guaira and Maracaibo airfields. Under Secretary of State Welles was informed that the Army wanted to store three hundred heavy bombs, to be guarded by a company of troops, at each field. It would also need to construct storage igloos for the bombs, establish new radio facilities with the necessary operating personnel, and station liaison officers at each field to maintain contact with Venezuelan military authorities. 67

Though at first Mr. Welles did not anticipate any great difficulty about making some such arrangement, he soon learned that the Venezuelans were opposed to the stationing of any United States Army units, however small, on Venezuelan soil. On the other hand, they were willing to permit two Army noncommissioned officers to be attached to the United States Naval Mission so that one of them could supervise the employment of Venezuelan civilians to guard the bombs at each airfield. The Venezuelans also wanted the bombs stored at airfields other than those proposed by the United States Army and from which Army medium and heavy bombers could not operate. The Army, though insisting it must use the airfields it had designated, accepted the noncommissioned officer proposal; then it discovered that the Navy no longer wished to have bombs for Army aircraft stored in Venezuela.68  The Army's chief Latin American planner wanted to persist in getting final Venezuelan approval of the project anyway, on the ground that "having secured such permission from one American Republic, it will probably be easier to secure similar privileges from others." 69 Nevertheless, nothing more was done, and the Army failed to obtain a comparable privilege elsewhere until after the United States entered the war.

The Army's air commander in the Panama Canal Zone informally suggested in March 1941 that it would be a good idea to station small Army detachments of servicing and communications specialists at each of the airfields being developed by Pan American Airways.70 His suggestion led to an official inquiry from the War Department to the Caribbean commander for recommendations. In response General Van Voorhis stated, "United States military servicing, communications and weather detachments are considered essential at certain airdromes in Central and South America where United


States troops, under present plans, will not be stationed." They were needed not only for these specific duties but also to guard planes in transit against sabotage and to help insure the secrecy of air movements. He asked that fifteen-man detachments be placed at each of the Pan American airports in Mexico, Central America, the West Indian republics, and northern South America and that they be controlled from a small headquarters to be located in the Canal Zone under the commander of the Caribbean Air Force.71

During the summer and autumn of 1941, War and State Department officials discussed the possibility of stationing Army detachments at airports but actually did nothing about it. In October the Caribbean Defense Command renewed its earlier recommendation. It asked particularly for detachments at airfields in the Central American and West Indian republics, and it wanted the detachments to be in uniform and armed. For the moment, the War Plans Division decided that the potential disadvantages of the scheme outweighed its prospective advantages-the detachments would be difficult to control, and their presence in uniform might encourage anti-American outbursts. Since the Army Air Forces did not officially indorse the detachment plan until a few days before Pearl Harbor, it was not acted upon before the United States entered the war.72 Until then, the Army normally depended on Pan American Airways to provide weather, communications, and mechanical services, as well as fuel, at its airports.73

The Army needed to secure greater freedom for its planes to fly over and land on the territory of the Latin American nations than it had under procedures in effect before 1941. The transfer of a heavy bomber squadron from Panama to Trinidad in the spring of 1941 illuminated the difficulties arising under current procedures for flight arrangements. The planes had to be disarmed and their armament shipped by sea, and Colombia and Venezuela had to be approached through diplomatic channels for permission to fly over their territory and land at their airfields en route.74 Instead of special arrangements for each movement, the Army wanted flight agreements that would permit its planes to move at will within the Caribbean area. The Army Air Forces recommended in the fall of 1941 that the Department of State nego-


tiate uniform agreements with each of the Caribbean and northern South American nations on the following terms:

(1) No restrictions as to type and number of airplanes, frequency of flights, personnel or material carried.

(2) No restrictions as to length of time the flight may remain in the country concerned.

(3) Official notification by direct communication between the Chief of the Army Air Forces or the Commanding General of the Caribbean Air Force, and one predetermined military agency of the countries concerned.

(4) Permission granted to be applicable to all flights of United States service aircraft across and to the country concerned.75

The flight agreement with Mexico negotiated in April 1941 had been a step in this direction.76 Informally, Colombia during the summer of 1941 agreed to freer flight privileges than those accorded by the Mexican agreement, and Venezuela did likewise on the eve of Pearl Harbor.77 The Central American and West Indian nations generally imposed no restrictions on Army aircraft in transit between the United States and its Caribbean bases. Nevertheless, before December 1941 neither they nor any of the other Latin American nation would agree to allow United States Army planes to fly at will over their territory and land thereon as necessary, subject only to advance notification through military channels for technical reasons. Without such freedom, the Caribbean Air Force could not carry out its mission in time of war.

In order to prepare air navigation charts of the terrain along the developing system of military airways in Latin America, the Army also needed to obtain permission for Army Air Corps photographic teams to operate from Latin American airports. Many of the Latin American nations had granted this privilege in principle in the staff agreements of 1940, but little had been done about it. Two days before the Pearl Harbor attack the Army sought permission for its air forces to photograph fifty-mile wide strips along the airways through Mexico, Central America, and the northern and western coasts of South America.78

With the advent of war, the War Plans Division decided that the quickest and most appropriate way to obtain the various air privileges that it had previously sought would be to invoke the staff agreements of 1940. On 11 December it asked the Department of State to do so, "but only to the extent of granting permission to use their airports, seaports and related facilities, in-


cluding communications of all kinds; to take necessary air photographs; and to send to certain key airports small Air Corps servicing, communications and weather detachments." At the moment of this request, the Army had no desire to put armed forces other than these small detachments into any of the Latin American republics except Brazil.79  The Department of State immediately asked Ecuador and the five Central American and three West Indian republics to accede to the Army's wishes, and more cautious requests went out to Colombia and Venezuela.80 The Army at the same time asked for Mexican consent to station airway detachments at three airports.81 Apparently without consulting the War Plans Division, the Army Air Forces a few days later asked the Department of State to negotiate new flight agreements that would permit Army aircraft to move at will in the Latin American area." 82

The diplomatic approaches that followed these Army requests resulted, without the formality of new written agreements, in the granting of virtually unrestricted flying and photographic privileges for United States military planes by Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru and by the Central American and West Indian republics. A new staff agreement with Venezuela, signed by a representative of the Caribbean Defense Command on 15 January 1942, provided for relatively free flying privileges but not for photographic work by United States Army planes Mexico announced its willingness to allow American planes to reconnoiter its territory in December 1941, and the formal establishment of the joint United States-Mexican Defense Commission the following month provided a channel for obtaining necessary flying and photographic privileges for Army aircraft during the war. Brazil agreed during the spring of 1942 to let the Army map both its coast and its interior, and also to allow Army planes to use the air corridor through northeastern Brazil without restriction.83

The Army's formal request to station servicing detachments at the Pan American airports had a more complex aftermath. Mexico accepted unarmed detachments dressed in civilian clothes and ostensibly working as Pan American employees. Venezuela agreed to the same arrangement for detachments


at four airfields, but because of the Army's reluctance to allow any of its troops to be stationed anywhere unarmed and in civilian clothing unless absolutely necessary, a detachment was eventually sent only to the strategically located Maracaibo airfield. 84 Colombia likewise approved the dispatch of detachments, but under restrictions that persuaded the Caribbean commander to withhold action until an emergency required that they be sent.85 The West Indian republics readily agreed to receive servicing personnel at their airfields, and at the end of February 1942 Brazil approved the stationing of much larger numbers of Air Corps specialists than the detachment plan had ever visualized.86 In Central America and on the west coast of South America a different situation developed from that foreseen when the War Plans Division submitted its request for detachments to the Department of State on 11 December. Almost immediately afterward the War Department decided to establish a long-range air reconnaissance by Army planes of the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal. This required the establishment of regular military bases in Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru.87 The emergency air base in Costa Rica received a small military guard as well as a servicing detachment. Apparently the landing field at Managua, Nicaragua, was the only location at which the Army carried out its original detachment plan without change.

These various arrangements made after Pearl Harbor gave Army aircraft the mobility in air operations that the military airways system projected in 1939 and 1940 had been designed to provide. In the western Caribbean area, most of the Pan American airports served as useful wartime links between the United States and the military air bases that guarded the Panama Canal and its approaches. In the eastern Caribbean, they provided steppingstones to the major military airfields in Puerto Rico and the British bases. Beyond British Guiana, the Pan American airfields became the stations of the Army's South Atlantic airway to the Old World. The War Department's prewar alliance with Pan American Airways passed the tests of wartime circumstances, and in so doing it provided a convenient and workable basis for military collaboration between the United States and its neighbors to the south.



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