Out From the Canal Zone

The fall of France and the subsequent siege of Britain created a situation that was in effect the one for which the newest of the American strategic plans had been designed. Based on the assumption of a complete German victory in Europe, which would burden the United States with most of the weight of defending the Western Hemisphere, this new plan -the RAINBOW 4 plan- provided for taking into protective custody the Old World possessions in the New World on the ground that Hitler would otherwise grab them up as spoils of war.1  The plan contemplated the organizing of a Caribbean theater of operations as a major measure of defense, one that would in fact serve the dual purpose of furthering the southerly orientation of RAINBOW 4 and of protecting the Atlantic approaches to the Panama Canal. While subsidiary RAINBOW 4 plans were being laid, the President and his advisers were arranging the details of the destroyer-base exchange with the British Government. As soon as the exchange took place a survey of the prospective base sites in the Caribbean area -British Guiana on the southern periphery, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Antigua, and Jamaica- was undertaken by an Army-Navy board and preparations for developing the bases were begun.

Another important element in the making of a Caribbean theater was the precarious position of the French and Dutch colonies. Immediately upon the invasion of the Low Countries in early May 1940, British troops landed in Curacao and a French unit went to Aruba for the purpose of guarding the large and valuable oil refineries there. The Dutch Government acquiesced, even though reluctantly, and the United States protested, for fear of a Japanese reaction on the other side of the world. When France fell, the troops on Aruba were brought back to Martinique, where they joined the forces under the command of Admiral Georges Robert, the French High Commissioner. A British guard replaced them. Meanwhile, Admiral Robert had affirmed his allegiance to the Vichy regime, had become custodian of about $250,000,000 in gold that had been sent from France before the collapse,


and had gathered together at Martinique a small force of naval vessels, including the aircraft carrier Bearn with 106 American-built planes on board. The dangers in the situation were apparent and were not greatly eased by the presence of a British naval force in West Indian waters. To keep watch over the state of affairs the Navy Department based a destroyer squadron and twelve PBY'S (twin-engine patrol bombers) at San Juan.2  

Organizing the Caribbean Theater

When plans for developing the newly acquired Caribbean bases were drawn up, the need arose of creating a new command structure since only one of the new base sites, Jamaica, was within the limits of an existing command. Also, according to General Arnold, some arrangement under which all Army air units in the Caribbean would be under a single command was necessary, while at the same time General Marshall raised the question of "unity of command" over all forces -Army and Navy- in the area. A staff study that was started through the mill in October or November 1940 became, in December, a recommendation by the War Plans Division that a theater command be established over all the Army forces in the Panama Canal Department, the Puerto Rican Department, and the base sites leased from the British. The War Plans Division suggested that the various local commands be organized into three groups as follows: one, the Puerto Rican Department with the projected bases in Antigua, St. Lucia, and the Bahama Islands; two, the Panama Canal Department and Jamaica; and three, Trinidad and British Guiana.3  Perhaps more important than these intrinsic elements in producing a new command organization in the Caribbean was the fact that the War Department at the same time was considering organizing the defenses of the continental United States into four theaters, or defense commands.4  

On 9 January 1941, three weeks after the War Plans Division had submitted its recommendations to the Chief of Staff, the War Department notified General Van Voorhis that a Caribbean defense command had been


authorized and that he was to command it in addition to his other duties. On 10 February the Caribbean Defense Command was officially activated; ten days later General Van Voorhis assumed command; and on 29 May the organization was completed.5  

The structure was not built without disagreement. The controversial questions were principally the co-ordination of operations with the Navy, the precise grouping of local commands, and the organization of a Caribbean air force. Although official policy held that "operations of Army and Navy forces will normally be coordinated by mutual cooperation," it was the standard and accepted Army doctrine that only unity of command would provide the "unity of effort which is essential to the decisive application of the full combat power of the available forces." 6  The contretemps that had occurred at the time of the June 1940 alert, when by error the Panama Canal Department sent a "directive" to the Fifteenth Naval District, demonstrated what ought not to happen. It must have immeasurably strengthened General Marshall's conviction that unity of command was required without further delay, but General Van Voorhis, perhaps because of his close personal relations with the local naval commander, preferred the old official policy of mutual co-operation. "A gradual approach along cooperative lines," he wrote to General Marshall, "will result in joint effort without raising the question of command. Personally I feel that the question of coordinating all activities under a single head will have to be determined," he concluded, "when the emergency arises." 7  He had raised the question in June, when, during what appeared to be an emergency, he thought that the means for carrying out his mission were lacking and could be most easily provided by the Navy. Every time the same issue was raised elsewhere -in Bermuda, Newfoundland, Alaska, and Iceland- the circumstances were the same: one commander was looking with longing eyes at the means under the control of another. Since the question was essentially one of policy, discussion of it most of the time took place beyond the range of the local commanders. No solution was reached in Washington until the Pearl Harbor attack, when unity of command was established at Panama and Hawaii by fiat. The problem then was transferred to the operating levels. 

The question of how to group the local area commands within a Carib-


bean theater was at the very beginning a matter of difference between General Van Voorhis on the one hand and the War Plans Division and the commanding general of the Puerto Rican Department on the other. It was more open to compromise, however, than the issue of unity of command. In notifying General Van Voorhis on 9 January that the Caribbean Defense Command was authorized, the War Department directed him to recommend an appropriate organization. His views on this subject differed from those of the War Plans Division. Instead of placing Antigua and St. Lucia with the Puerto Rican Department and Jamaica with the Panama Canal Department, General Van Voorhis recommended that Jamaica be grouped with Puerto Rico, to make for easier administration, and that Antigua and St. Lucia be grouped with Trinidad, which would become a territorial department.8  The commanding general of the Puerto Rican Department, Maj. Gen. James L. Collins, objected to this grouping on the score that the Anegada Passage, between the Virgin Islands and the Leewards, could not be effectively closed unless the Puerto Rican defenses extended beyond it. He also believed it more desirable to have Antigua and St. Lucia supplied from Puerto Rico. A compromise was adopted. On 3 May the War Department notified General Van Voorhis that after considering the matter it had approved the new scheme of organization. (Chart 1) On 29 May 1941, General Van Voorhis organized the Caribbean Defense Command in accordance with the directive of the War Department.9  

The same problem that had faced the Panama Canal Department now confronted the larger theater. Whether the tactical defenses should be organized along lines similar to those of the administrative organization and assigned to the sectors or be placed in a theater-wide functional grouping under a single commander was the question. The specific issue concerned the air units. On opposite sides of the question were ranged General Van Voorhis and the commander of his air forces, Maj. Gen. Frank M. Andrews.

Based on enthusiastic reports of British air defense brought back by General Chaney and other American observers, a theater-type organization of air defense was set up in the continental United States in the early spring of 1941. To such builders of air power as General Andrews this seemed to offer the ideal system. It was essentially a task force organization, as far as the air units themselves were concerned, which would go into action when





alerted by the elaborate ground warning network. Ideally, as the air forces saw it, the antiaircraft artillery would be closely tied in with the interceptor forces, and the whole would be commanded by the air commander.

General Marshall, in a personal letter to General Van Voorhis on 4 January, referred to the question of co-ordinating the air forces as being "exceedingly important" and requiring "very special treatment." He had sent General Andrews to Panama, General Marshall wrote, so that "a very competent man" would be available for this purpose; and "as soon as the new air units begin to arrive in the Caribbean region," he continued, "the matter of coordination of air affairs will demand immediate treatment." 10  But then General Marshall went on to say that he felt that current plans provided for too many air units to be accumulated on permanent station in the Caribbean, since air units could be deployed rapidly when needed, if airfields and facilities were available. He suggested that, after the minimum garrisons were decided upon, air units located in the southeastern United States be tagged as reinforcements and that, instead of being stationed in the Caribbean, they might make a swing around the region three or four times a year. He admitted, however, that "the Staff" in Washington did "not seem to agree" with him on this. General Marshall then proceeded to discuss command between Army and Navy, in the midst of which he added, "but there can be no question but what all of the Air activities must be coordinated by a single head."

General Van Voorhis agreed that for the time being the outpost bases in the Antilles should be lightly manned but developed so they could take care of reinforcements that might be flown in from the United States. He took the position that the Panama Canal air forces "should not go beyond the immediate sphere of their operations in . . . defense of the canal, for which they were initially provided." And they should not, General Van Voorhis continued, "be looked upon by the War Department as constituting a force available for operations throughout the theater.11  He was firm and emphatic in his insistence that means had to come before co-ordination. Both General Andrews and his predecessor General Dargue had vigorously agitated this matter of "coordinating all means available," without explaining to the satisfaction of General Van Voorhis what the Air Corps meant by co-ordination. General Van Voorhis considered it synonymous with command, and it seemed to him obvious that the acquisition of means, and


training, should come first. He pointed out, furthermore, that air defense plans for the continental United States could rely upon a comprehensive communications network, the lack of which in the Panama-Caribbean area militated against the adoption of a similar defense system. When the War Department kept urging him to "effect coordination in the Caribbean area" by charging General Andrews "with functions . . . corresponding to those of the Commanding General, GHQ Air Force in the continental United States," and when, according to General Van Voorhis, the War Department questioned the organization of the Panama air defenses before he had organized them, General Van Voorhis lost his last shred of patience. He could not understand, he wrote, how the War Department could criticize something on which he had never even expressed himself officially. 12  A few days later, when he announced the organization of the Caribbean Air Force, with General Andrews as commanding general, it could be seen that the structural details did not markedly differ from those recommended by the Air Corps and modeled after the organization in the continental United States..13  

Part, at least, of the War Department's attitude had been inspired by letters from General Andrews. On 11 January, about a month after his appointment as commander of the Panama Canal air forces, General Andrews submitted a lengthy report to General Van Voorhis in which he recommended a program for improving the air defenses along lines advocated by the Air Corps. Four days later, on 15 January, he wrote to Maj. Gen. George H. Brett, Chief of the Air Corps, describing the Panama air defenses as "worth little" and the communications system as "lousy." 14  In March he wrote to General Marshall criticizing plans for the air warning service in Panama and charging that too many nonessential things were being done in the name of defense. He set forth his views on the organization of a Caribbean air force, including the need for unity of command over local naval defenses and the desirability of bases in the Republic of Panama and the west coast of Africa. Before General Marshall could dispatch a reply, another letter from General Andrews arrived reiterating the latter's dissatisfaction with the slow progress he had made in "selling" General Van Voor-


his his ideas on the organization and operation of a Caribbean air force. He attributed this fact to his failure to gain the complete confidence of General Van Voorhis.15  But only a few weeks later the Caribbean Air Force was organized as a "task force, complete within itself, capable of independent action, and commanded only by air officers." 16  

The next step in giving effect to the task force-defense command idea was to authorize GHQ to act as a command headquarters. This was done early in July. Given command of the Army garrisons in Greenland, Bermuda, and Newfoundland, GHQ sought to have the Caribbean Defense Command similarly "activated," because from the GHQ point of view the command situation within the Caribbean theater was "unsatisfactory . . . as regards training, supply and administration." 17  Two weeks after GHQ reopened the question of command in the Caribbean, orders were issued for General Van Voorhis to take over command of the Fifth Corps Area. His successor was General Andrews.18  

The Alert of July 1941

Although the command was now organized along theater lines, the safety of the Panama Canal was still the chief concern.19  Rumors and fears of a Japanese attempt against the Canal had developed at the beginning of July when affairs in the Far East began to edge toward a crisis. The Navy Department's bulletin to the President on 3 July reported the probability of a Japanese move against Russia "about 20 July" and the fact that the Japanese Government was beginning to divert shipping out of the Atlantic. One shipping company, it was stated, had ordered its vessels to be west of the Panama Canal by 25 July regardless of passengers or cargo; another had instructed its ships to discharge all their cargo at west coast ports. Among numerous other memorabilia, the bulletin further reported the following: "Possible torpedo attack on Panama Canal between 1st and 15th of July is reported from a reliable source . . . ." 20  This information was sent to the War Department at once and was immediately relayed to General Van


Voorhis as follows: "Report from questionable source indicates torpedo attack on Canal between July 1 and 15. " 21  In Washington, much more significance was attached to the news of Japanese shipping diversions. General Van Voorhis was directed to take added measures of protection against sabotage and to tighten up the surveillance of ships in transit. He was to delay all Japanese ships, ostensibly for the purpose of searching them, until he received further instructions from the War Department.22  General Van Voorhis tended to discount much of what had been reported. Japanese ship movements were normal, he radioed Washington, and in fact on 3 July a large Japanese freighter had passed through the Canal into the Atlantic, bound for Baltimore. As for a torpedo attack, he had been given a similar report by the military attaché at Bogota, and it was clear he did not put much stock in it. However, he immediately placed a series of defensive measures into effect. War channels through the mine fields at both ends of the Canal were put in use instead of the usual straight channels; antisubmarine and torpedo nets were placed in operation in front of the locks; and a vigilant guard was maintained. The only unusual activity was a concentration of small boats on the Pacific side of the Isthmus, possibly fishing craft, reported General Van Voorhis, and in order to maintain surveillance over them he requested that he be provided with two high-powered speed boats.23  Meanwhile, someone in Washington had figured out that Japanese shipping movements were scheduled so as to place one or more vessels in the Canal each day during the period 16-22 July. Although the War Department was unaware of its purpose, the schedule looked definitely suspicious and countermeasures were considered imperative. The result was that General Marshall and Secretary Stimson decided to restrict Canal traffic for an indefinite period "for the purpose of effecting repairs." What this amounted to was an exclusion of Japanese shipping; all other vessels were permitted to pass through.24  When the Japanese Ambassador inquired about the seeming discrimination, he received a very noncommittal reply from Acting Secretary of State Welles, who had been informed by the War Department of its intentions and who was in complete accord with them.25  Several of the vessels that had aroused the suspicions of G-2, and a number


of other Japanese ships, arrived at Cristobal during the next few days, but, when the ban was continued, they were rerouted either via Capetown or by way of Cape Horn. By 22 July no Japanese vessels remained at the Canal Zone.26  The few ships that had been inspected in United States ports had proved to be free of any threat. Before the month ended, the Japanese move into Indochina provided a clue to the activity that had aroused American suspicions, and the subsequent freezing of Japanese funds in the United States brought a cessation of trade between the two countries that made the Canal restrictions superfluous.

The Outposts in the Dutch West Indies

The strategic importance of the Caribbean area itself had meanwhile increased. Among other basic commodities, American shipping was now carrying two million tons of bauxite per year from Surinam to the United States. This represented 60 or 65 percent of the American aluminum industry's total supply, and any threat to the mines or the sea lanes would imperil American production. On 18 August, in the midst of its Iceland preparations and Brazil and Azores planning, GHQ was instructed to prepare plans for the relief of the British troops in Aruba and Curacao and for the establishment of an American garrison in Surinam. As in the case of all plans involving the forces or territory of another country, there were certain complications. Diplomatic discussions aimed at clarifying the status of the Dutch colonies were in progress and made a military reconnaissance impractical. Furthermore, the protection of the bauxite mines had been taken under study by a joint Anglo-American staff committee. Brazil, too, came into the picture when Mr. Jefferson Caffery, the American Ambassador, informed the State Department that Brazil might be willing to join in the defense of Surinam. Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles favored Brazilian participation on the ground that it might lead the way to Brazilian permission for the establishment of American defense forces in northeast Brazil. A final complication was President Roosevelt's desire to postpone any action until he could discuss the subject with Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who was expected to visit the United States later in the summer. 27  


The War Plans Division took the position that any force sent to Surinam should have a broader mission than guarding the bauxite mines. Instead of merely a guard company, the force, according to the chief of the Plans Group, should be "adequate to the task of (1) maintaining United States authority, (2) protecting our vital interests, . . . and (3) upholding the prestige and dignity of our armed services." 28  The result was a recommendation by the War Plans Division, approved by General Marshall on 29 August, that a reinforced infantry battalion be immediately sent to Trinidad, where it would be held in readiness to move into Surinam. Brig. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, head of the War Plans Division, went to Hyde Park on 31 August to present the situation to the President, who had just learned that Queen Wilhelmina's visit was to be postponed. A convenient opportunity to press for Dutch permission to send a force to Surinam offered itself on this same day, when the Governor of the colony, alarmed at reports that a German cruiser was in the vicinity, appealed to British authorities in Trinidad for aid. Brig. Gen. Ralph Talbot, Jr., commanding the American troops in Trinidad, requested authority to send 20,000 rounds of 30 caliber ammunition to the local Dutch forces in Surinam. The War Department at first granted the request but later in the day rescinded its authorization in favor of organizing a special force to be sent to Surinam. Force A, as it was designated, consisted of three composite companies of the 33d Infantry, a bomber squadron, and three platoons of Coast Artillery. It totaled 990 officers and enlisted men. On 9 September, just a week after the first steps had been taken to organize it, Force A sailed from the Canal Zone to Trinidad. There it stayed, awaiting the signal to proceed, until 25 November. 29  

Although the Dutch Government had agreed in principle to accept American aid, the negotiations were protracted, and the departure of Force A from Trinidad was delayed by the pressure of other matters of higher priority to the State Department and by the need of arranging details of the Brazilian participation. Reluctant to admit Brazilian troops into Surinam since the aid of Venezuela had not been sought for Curacao and Aruba, the Netherlands Government proposed as a solution to invite Brazil to send a


military mission to Surinam for the purpose of co-ordinating defense measures and discussing the security of their common boundary. This formula was accepted by the Brazilian Government, and the War Department began making arrangements to send the troops about 9 November. But because of dissidence on the part of one or two members of the Netherlands Cabinet, the start of the operation was delayed another two weeks.30  On 25 November a headquarters party flew into Surinam, and three days later the first echelon of the force arrived off the harbor of Paramaribo. On 3 December 1941 the remainder of the ground troops landed, and on 8 December the air unit arrived with three B-18's and seven P-40 fighter planes.

The dispatch of troops to Aruba and Curacao seems to have been a less urgent matter, although it had been under consideration fully as long as the Surinam operation. In the Anglo-American staff conversations early in 1941 (the ABC meetings) it had been agreed that, if and when the United States entered the war, American forces would relieve the British garrisons in Iceland and in Aruba and Curacao. During the summer the first American troops had gone to Iceland. But it was not until February 1942, after the United States had entered the war, that American troops arrived at the Dutch islands. Until then, two British infantry battalions (one on each island) provided security for the oil refineries and port installations. Seacoast defenses consisted of three 7.5-inch guns on each island, manned by Dutch troops. During September, October, and November both GHQ and the War Plans Division made studies of the troop requirements, but there was apparently no intention of sending the troops immediately. The original calculation of 1,433 officers and men, which approximated the British strength on the two islands, was increased in the course of the three months of planning to 2,434 men, which was more than the combined British-Dutch forces. But the matter was still hanging fire when the attack on Pearl Harbor came. 31  

Securing the Pacific Approaches

During 1941, while the Caribbean theater was being organized, the Pacific approaches to the Canal were likewise being secured. Before the year


was out, permission to build bases in the Galapagos Islands had been obtained from the government of Ecuador, negotiations for similar bases at Salinas, Ecuador, and Talara, Peru, were under way, and a squadron of Army bombers had begun operating from airfields in Guatemala. Thus a semicircle of defense similar to that provided by the Antilles was constructed in the Pacific.

The question of acquiring bases on the Galapagos Islands had made one of its periodic appearances at the beginning of the year. At that time the War Plans Division had taken the position that nothing should be done unless the President expressly directed it and unless an outright lease was obtained from the government of Ecuador. If these conditions were met, the War Plans Division agreed that assistance should be offered the Ecuador air force in return for use of a base in the Galapagos Islands.32  During the following weeks reports filtered in from South America that the government of Ecuador would not be averse to ceding a base on the islands to the United States.33  At this point, in the spring of 1941, the question was still considered primarily a matter for the Navy Department to act upon, just as it had been three years earlier. Although definitely related to the defense of Panama, a base in the Galapagos fell within the Navy's responsibility for offshore patrol. The Army was officially concerned only to the extent that the base would have to be defended.

Meanwhile, the question was being approached at a more oblique angle than naval or military, or even diplomatic, channels permitted. President Roosevelt knew the Galapagos Islands and recognized their strategic importance; but he was also alive to the undesirable repercussions that would follow any attempt of the United States to establish a base there. He made various proposals aimed at setting up some sort of collective protectorate over the islands, but nothing came of them. More promising were the activities of the Pacific Development Company. This was a corporation organized and headed by a retired naval officer and chartered in Delaware for the purpose of developing a concession on the largest of the Galapagos Islands. Having received a sweeping grant of authority from the Ecuadoran Government and a large loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Pacific Development Company entered into negotiations with the private owner of the island. President Roosevelt, who had been introduced to the project by his naval aide, Capt. Daniel J. Callaghan, apparently intended to


use the company much as the Pan American Airways Corporation was being employed in the airport development program. The Navy Department, somewhat to the annoyance of Admiral Stark, thus had to deal with the Pacific Development Company for the facilities it desired 34  Then a hitch occurred. The man with whom the development company was negotiating owned only 10 percent of the necessary property, it now transpired, so that the lease for most of the land would have to be obtained from the Ecuadoran Government. At about the same time an account of the Pacific Development Company and its activities appeared in the column of a Washington journalist. Although the story was far from complete, it nevertheless served to draw aside the curtain of secrecy that was essential to the success of the company's negotiations.35  

While the matter of acquiring the land and providing the physical plant had been occupying the attention of the Pacific Development Company, the business of obtaining permission to make use of the islands and the territorial waters of Ecuador had been the subject of independent and direct negotiation between the State and Navy Departments on the one hand and the Ecuadoran Government on the other. More progress was made in this respect than by the development company. Before the company's negotiations reached a standstill, the Navy obtained permission to use the Galapagos Islands as a patrol base. The State Department thereupon began negotiating a formal agreement providing for the establishment of naval facilities and installations on the islands and a base on the mainland as well, in the vicinity of Salinas. Colonel Ridgway of the War Plans Division was informed of these developments by Capt. W. O. Spears, USN, on 16 October, during discussion of an Army staff study recommending that the War Department take active steps to acquire Aircraft Warning Service and landplane bases in the Galapagos. This study, advocating what was for the War Department a reversal of policy, had been drawn up in the War Plans Division and submitted to Captain Spears for comment. Now, informing Colonel Ridgway of the progress made in the negotiations for naval bases, Captain Spears offered the opinion that the Navy Department would be "very reluctant to consent to the diversion of any more materials . . . re-


quired by the establishment of additional bases." The naval bases, he thought, would suffice.36  

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor intensified Ecuadoran fears for the safety of the islands and put an end to earlier objections by the State Department that a base agreement with Ecuador might offend Peru. Less than a week after the attack, an advance unit of the Navy's base force was on its way to the Galapagos on a British steamer.37  The War Department on 20 December informed Under Secretary of State Welles that it desired to obtain from Ecuador "the right to construct landing fields on those islands at U.S. expense and to station necessary defensive forces there for protection of the fields. Without the latter, it does not wish the former." 38  At a meeting of the Standing Liaison Committee, later the same day, Mr. Welles voiced his assurance that, in view of previous statements by the government of Ecuador, the War Department could proceed with its plans before the signing of a formal agreement, which was expected to take place the following week. A similar request by the "War Department with respect to Peruvian airfields would, according to Mr. Welles, have to await the reply of the Peruvian Government.39  Although Talara, Peru, had apparently been preferred by War Department planners as the southern terminus of the patrol arc, when no reply carne from the Peruvian Government, the War Department switched to Salinas, Ecuador, which had already been designated as the site of the naval patrol base.40  The first Army planes reached Salinas on 16 January 1942, when a flight of heavy bombers (four B-17's) arrived from Panama.41  Toward the end of the month construction of a joint Army Navy base at the Salinas airfield was begun. In the Galapagos everything started from scratch, since there were no existing facilities, as there were at


Salinas, that could be used until the base was completed. As a result it was early May before the first Army combat unit reached the islands and began operations.42  

Thanks to the airport development program carried out by Pan American Airways and to the prompt co-operation of the Guatemalan Government, air facilities at the northern end of the patrol arc were usable several weeks before operations began at the Salinas airfield. Throughout 1941 Construction work on two existing airfields in Guatemala -one at Guatemala City and the other at San José- had been under way. The idea had been to have the fields available so that, if the Guatemalan Government should request the support of American arms against aggression by a non-American power, help would be forthcoming quickly; but during 1941 the question was raised whether it might not be advisable to send security and communications detachments to the airfields immediately. GHQ and the Caribbean Defense Command seem to have been inclined toward sending the detachments; the War Plans Division of the General Staff and the State Department appear to have been opposed. There had been no decision on the matter when the Japanese attacked Hawaii.43  

A week after the attack the American Chargé d'Affaires at Guatemala City transmitted to the Guatemalan Foreign Minister a note requesting permission for American military planes to fly over and land on Guatemalan territory without formal notification through diplomatic channels, to make whatever photographs might be necessary for tactical or navigational purposes, and to make use of Guatemalan airports and their facilities. Permission was also sought to station a bombardment squadron of 700 men and 10 planes at San Jose and small service detachments at both fields. On 16 December, the day following the receipt of the American request, the Guatemalan Government signified its consent, and on 25 December General Andrews notified GHQ that six B-18's were operating out of Guatemala City, which had been chosen for the main base. The bulk of the force, including a reinforced infantry platoon, arrived in Guatemala on 7 January 1942 and brought the strength up to about 425 officers and men.44  


Expansion in the Republic of Panama

When the question of developing a base in the Galapagos and of building up an outer ring of defense around the Pacific approaches to the Canal had been raised, in January 1941, the inner defenses were still concentrated in the Canal Zone. Negotiations with the Panamanian Government for defense sites outside the Zone had reached a standstill. In the year and a half since the ratification of the Panama treaty, the number of defense sites of one sort or another that the Army wanted to acquire in the Republic of Panama had risen from ten or so to more than seventy-five. The principal reasons for the delay in the negotiations were the term of the leasehold and the question of jurisdiction. A new administration which had taken office in Panama was inclined to grant a lease for such bases only for the duration of the emergency, while the United States desired to negotiate a long-term lease with an option to renewal, using the Rio Hato lease as a model. On the question of jurisdiction, the United States took the position that for the period of the lease it should have exclusive jurisdiction and police authority over all persons within the leased areas 45  In London, at this same time, the commissioners who were negotiating a base agreement with the British Government were facing a similar situation.

With General Van Voorhis urging the War Department to press for a settlement, and with General Marshall voicing his concern over the air forces being "entrapped in the Canal Zone," Secretary Stimson laid the matter before the President and Cabinet at a meeting on 9 January.46  President Roosevelt, informed of the danger in having all the Panama Air Force planes crowded together on three small airfields, directed Secretary of State Hull to take a stronger stand with the Panamanian Government.47  The result was a new tack. Instead of continuing what promised to be endless negotiations, the State Department informed the Panamanian Government that further discussion would be of no value until the lands in question were actually occupied. This had been the procedure with respect to the base sites acquired from Britain in the destroyer-base exchange, when it was agreed not to let the discussion of controversial questions delay the acquisition of the base sites. The Panamanian Government expressed its willingness to


permit the military authorities to occupy the various defense areas and to begin construction pending the conclusion of a formal agreement. A joint board was to be set up for arranging details of the transfer. Although General Van Voorhis was reluctant to take over any sites unless he could do it unconditionally and with full authority, a decision to go ahead was made on 24 March. During the following week instructions to this effect were sent to General Van Voorhis and the American Ambassador in Panama, and a schedule of dates for taking over the sites, which General Van Voorhis had drawn up, was given to the Panamanian Government.48  By 12 April 8 of the 12 airfield sites that had been considered necessary were taken over and occupied, and two of the seven AWS stations had been transferred but not occupied. During the next five weeks 1 or 2 additional landing field sites were acquired, and apparently no request was made for the transfer of any other sites. To the State Department, which all along had been urged to make haste in obtaining an agreement with Panama, it seemed that now an agreement had been reached the War Department was dragging its heels. However, an exchange of messages with General Van Voorhis convinced the War Plans Division that "every effort" was being made "to take over and occupy defense sites expeditiously.49  By the end of 1941 about 40 defense sites had been occupied by American troops, and eventually-the number rose to more than a hundred. A lack of roads and other facilities rather than any procrastination on the part of the Army or the Panamanian Government made the process slower at times than it might have been.

The procedure by which defense sites were acquired had been worked out by July 1941. It consisted of a preliminary study and consideration of each site by a joint Panamanian-United States Army board. If the site met with the approval of the board and the Panamanian Government raised no objections, the Army would move in and begin developing the place. While this was going forward, surveys and the assessment of damages were being carried out under the general supervision of a second joint board that was responsible for giving final, formal approval to the transfer. The system had apparently been functioning smoothly for some time, when President Arnulfo


Arias of Panama was suddenly thrust out of office. With the President went the Panamanian members of both joint boards, and in the confusion the records disappeared. By the time new members were appointed and new records compiled, circumstances seemed to require a change in procedure.50  

Except for the entry of the United States into the war, the change most pregnant with consequences was the signing of the formal agreement on defense bases, which took place on 18 May 1942. Although progress had been made in actually acquiring the sites, a formal agreement setting forth the rights and privileges to be enjoyed by the United States had been avoided by the Arias regime. Negotiations had continued during the summer and early fall without much progress being made. At the end of September the draft of an agreement, which offered no substantial concessions to the Panamanian point of view, was sent to the American Ambassador for submission to the Panamanian Government on 8 October, the very day on which the Arias government was overthrown. The draft reached General Andrews' headquarters on 1 November, but by then it was becoming clear that the new Panamanian administration could not retreat far from the position taken by the Arias government.51  Discussions, counterproposals, and more study finally produced on 27 March 1942 a second draft that incorporated certain compromises. This draft formed the basis of the approved agreement signed in Panama on 18 May. As finally accepted, the agreement was to terminate within one year after "the definitive treaty of peace" was signed, and if the situation at that time was such as to require the continued occupancy of any of the defense bases, a new agreement would be concluded. The United States was given exclusive and full jurisdiction over its own civilian and military personnel within the leased areas and the right to arrest, try, and punish anyone committing crimes against the safety of the installations, except that Panamanian citizens arrested on any charge had to be turned over to Panamanian authorities for trial and punishment. For all lands leased as defense sites the United States agreed to pay to private owners an annual rental of $50.00 a hectare and for public lands $1.00 a year for all of them except the Rio Hato area, for which the annual rental was to be $10,000. The United States also agreed to assume the expense of completing the Pina-Rio Providencia highway and the Madden Dam bypass into Panama City.


Photo: ANTIAIRCRAFT DEFENSES OF THE PANAMA CANAL. Barrage balloons along the canal.

ANTIAIRCRAFT DEFENSES OF THE PANAMA CANAL. Barrage balloons along the canal (top). A 40-mm. antiaircraft gun in position (bottom).

Photo: ANTIAIRCRAFT DEFENSES OF THE PANAMA CANAL. A 40-mm. antiaircraft gun in position.


One-third of the annual maintenance cost of all highways used frequently by American forces would be carried by the United States.52  

Simultaneously with the signing of the lease agreement in Panama, an exchange of notes took place in Washington between Secretary Hull and the Panamanian Ambassador. Ever since January 1941 the Panamanian Government had insisted on certain concessions, twelve in number, as conditions of a lease agreement, but the United States Government had objected to a conditional lease agreement, and at least one of the provisions was considered by the War Department to be detrimental to the security of the Canal. The result of the negotiations conducted by the State Department was a separate agreement embodying the twelve concessions, which was signed on the same day as the lease agreement but independently of it.53  

As a result of the two agreements a new procedure for acquiring defense sites came into being. Since the lease agreement authorized occupancy and specified the sites to be occupied, there was no longer need for both of the joint land boards. The Panamanian Foreign Minister therefore proposed, soon after the lease agreement was signed, that a new procedure for transferring the lands be adopted. The second of the two land boards was accordingly abolished, and its supervisory and survey functions were transferred to the other board.54  

Strength and Readiness of the Defenses, 1941

One of the reasons why additional base sites were necessary was the rapid increase in the Panama garrison in the last three months of 1940. During this period the strength had risen from about 21,500 officers and men to approximately 28,000, an increase of slightly more than 30 percent. During most of the following year, 1941, there was only a gradual rise. In January the garrison stood at about 28,700; in November it totaled approximately 31,400. This was where it stood at the end of the month when the situation in the Pacific began to cloud over.

Since midsummer of 1941 the harbor defense troops, the Aircraft Warn-


ing Service stations, and the antiaircraft defenses of the Panama Canal had been on a continuous round-the-clock alert. Locks and other sensitive areas were under constant guard against sabotage. Transit guards were being placed on all vessels passing through the Canal. The bomber command and some of the pursuit squadrons were on a 24-hour alert. Plans had been worked out for Army support of "the various naval commanders in the Caribbean Theater." In the Fifteenth Naval District, which included the waters immediately near Panama, the Navy was conducting a continuous surface patrol supplemented, to the extent the availability of planes permitted, by an air patrol.55  These measures were fully reported by General Andrews to the War Department in response to a warning sent to the commanding generals on the west coast and in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Panama on 27 November. The only additional measure that General Andrews considered it necessary to take was to increase inspections in order to insure the alertness of the troops.56  

He did, however, call to the attention of the War Department certain deficiencies in the defenses of the Canal. In General Andrews' opinion, the commandant of the naval district did not have enough planes or vessels under his control to conduct an adequate reconnaissance. The Aircraft Warning Service in the Caribbean theater, he reported, was totally inadequate in personnel to supervise the installation of detectors on hand as well as to man the equipment when installed. Only two detectors were installed and in operation in the Panama Canal Department. The harbor defenses had less than one complete manning detail available. The antiaircraft artillery had insufficient personnel to man the armament being installed in the Canal Zone and only enough ammunition for one minute of fire per gun for the 37-mm. guns. There were no barrage balloons. The Caribbean Air Force, General Andrews continued, was totally lacking in night pursuit planes and in very-high-frequency radio equipment with which to direct pursuit in air. Only eight modern long-range bombers and twelve modern light bombers were available, and there were no 37-mm. cannons for the P-39's. "The situations in Puerto Rico and the Base Commands are so new, and their major deficiencies so well known," General Andrews wrote, "that no attempt has been made to enumerate them." 57  


There had been little change in the size of the Puerto Rican garrison in 1941 since April, when heavy selective service inductions and large reinforcements had pushed the strength up to slightly more than 21,000 officers and enlisted men. This was an increase of about 60 percent over the December 1940 strength of 13,280 men and was almost exactly what the Panama garrison had been only seven months earlier. After the April augmentation the Puerto Rican garrison remained between 20,000 and 22,000 until March 1942, three months after the United States entered the war. Most of the troops were stationed at three posts: Borinquen Field, at the far northwestern point of the island; Camp Tortuguero, about twenty miles west of San Juan; and Fort Buchanan, midway between Camp Tortuguero and San Juan. Perhaps 66 percent of the total garrison was made up of native Puerto Ricans, distributed among the 65th Infantry and the several National Guard units that had been inducted on 15 October 1940.58  About 6,000 troops of the garrison belonged to the air component, the 13th Composite Wing. This was the striking force of the Puerto Rican coastal frontier. It was equipped, at the end of 1941, with twenty-one medium bombers and ninety-two pursuit planes.59

In addition to the Panama and Puerto Rican garrisons there were approximately 4,800 men in the new bases acquired from the British-in Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and British Guiana-and in Surinam. The largest of the outlying garrisons was the one in Trinidad, which totaled about 2,000 men.

Thus, when the Japanese attack on Hawaii came, there were nearly 58,000 troops on guard in -the Canal Zone, in the Republic of Panama, and along the vast arc that stretched from Surinam, north along the Antilles screen, to the Yucatan Channel.60  Their mission was not simply to keep the Canal open but to defend the entire area. It was a task shared with the Navy.


Naval Factors in Area Defense

The officially promulgated doctrine of joint Army and Navy action specified the administrative machinery by which the joint defense of an area like the Caribbean was to be organized. When this doctrine had been last revised, in 1935, the only areas for which a joint organization had been provided were the eastern seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific coast, and the Great Lakes region, each of which was designated a coastal frontier. Although originally nothing more than a geographical expression, the name coastal frontier by 1941 had also come to mean the organizations by which the local naval commanders co-ordinated their activities with those of the appropriate Army commanders and by which operational command was exercised over the forces of two or more component naval districts.61

The obvious necessity of extending local naval defense beyond the existing limits of the Tenth Naval District (Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) and the Fifteenth (the Panama Canal Zone and adjacent waters) and the need of co-ordinating activities with the Army on a broader basis than that afforded by the naval districts led Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, to propose the addition of two new coastal frontiers to the four already provided in Joint Action of the Army and the Navy. He suggested that a Caribbean coastal frontier be organized to include the southernmost of the Bahamas, the eastern half of Cuba and all the rest of the Antilles, and the northeastern coast of South America between Colombia and Brazil; and that a Panama coastal frontier be organized which would include both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts of Central America, both coasts of Colombia, and the coast of Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands, Cocos, and all the other islands off the Pacific coast were to be included also. This much of Admiral Stark's proposal was far from revolutionary. The Army-Navy Joint Planning Committee, then engaged in revising the RAINBOW 5 plan, accepted the two coastal frontiers as geographical definitions, and the Navy organized them as naval commands.

As part of his proposal, Admiral Stark had further recommended that each of the coastal frontiers be a unified command: the Caribbean to be under command of a naval officer, since it was primarily a naval strategic area; and the Panama Coastal Frontier to be an Army command, since the chief concern of forces there was the defense of the Canal. This ran counter to the single-theater point of view being developed by the Army, and, accord-


ing to General Andrews, it ignored the primary defense problems of the area, namely, the problem of air defense. If the Navy proposals were accepted, two Army air forces would be required in the Caribbean area, he predicted, and the organizations for maintenance, supply, and communications would become complicated and duplicating. The proposal, General Andrews commented, assumed that the two major threats were from the west and the east and overlooked the likelihood of an attack from the south along the Trinidad-Panama line.62  For the all-around defense of the area against any threat from any direction, the existing organization, namely, the Caribbean Defense Command, was sound and logical, General Andrews contended. He "agreed in principle with the desire of the Chief of Naval Operations to achieve a unity of command, but he believed that the method proposed was foreign to the problem at hand . . . ." 63  His conclusion was therefore that "naval support must be regarded as an adjunct to the existing army organization and should pass to army control when assigned or requested" and also that the naval districts in the Caribbean area should be so organized and commanded as "to permit coordination of naval supporting forces by the Caribbean Defense Commander through the principle of unity of command." 64 The situation offered some proof that when an irresistible force meets an immovable object the result could be a transmutation of both into gaseous nebulae.

Seeking to improve the defense of the Panama Canal, the Army had extended the defense system and organized it so as to embrace the whole Caribbean area. This area itself thereupon became an object of special attention on the part of the Army, although it was predominantly a water area. Viewed strictly as a matter of defending an area, the problem was how to disinfect that area completely and who should do it. A task of this type had not been the Navy's principal interest since the days of Thomas Jefferson. On the other hand, the protection of shipping, by means of convoys and the destruction of enemy sea power wherever encountered, was one of the primary missions of the Navy. Viewed as a sea lane along which American shipping had to be protected, the Caribbean was principally a naval strategic area, although the Army believed that within the boundaries of the area the task of protecting shipping could be done equally well by the Army's long-range bombers and patrol planes. Regardless of these considera-


tions the Caribbean side of the Isthmus gave Army authorities in the Canal Zone less concern than the exposed position on the Pacific side. In Panama, only a bare beginning had been made to provide the eventual bases for air coverage over the Salinas-Galapagos-Guatemala patrol arc. In order to fill the gaps in the arc, additional airdromes at Tehuantepec, Mexico, and Talara, Peru, were considered desirable; but, except for limited improvements to the existing field at Talara, which the Peruvian Government had been persuaded to undertake and which were started in the late fall of 1941, nothing had been done to establish these additional bases by the time the United States was drawn into the war. 65 In contrast, the defensive screen in the Caribbean had been tightened by the acquisition of the new base sites in British territory. Whereas the Army commanders in Panama had repeatedly, but without avail, urged the extension of the defenses in the Pacific, the authorities in Washington were more interested in developing and fortifying the new Caribbean bases. This interest stemmed in part from considerations other than the direct defense of the Canal.


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