The Continental Defense Commands
After Pearl Harbor

Essentially, the external defense problem of the continental defense commands after Pearl Harbor was one of preparing to fend off relatively minor surface attacks and, along the Pacific front, air attacks that might be launched from a carrier striking force. But even minor attacks could have caused extensive damage to vital installations and areas, and successful "nuisance" attacks might have had an almost calamitous effect on preparations for offensive operations overseas. After the Pearl Harbor experience the War and Navy Departments were also peculiarly sensitive to the prospect of the criticism that would certainly follow any sort of surprise attack that they had not prepared to meet as best they could.

Only the west coast was alerted before the enemy attacked. The war alert that was flashed on 27 November 1941 to the Philippine, Hawaiian, and Caribbean commanders had gone also to General DeWitt in his capacity of Commanding General, Western Defense Command. On the following day, a separate antisabotage alert was sent to him as Fourth Army commander. General DeWitt promptly communicated these alerts to his Army Air and Navy colleagues and to his subordinate commanders in the western United States and Alaska. His reply to Washington on 28 November described the defensive dispositions he had ordered and contained the assurance that "should hostilities occur this command [is] now ready to carry out tasks assigned in Rainbow 5 so far as they pertain to Japan except for woeful shortage of ammunition and pursuit and bombardment planes which should be made available without delay." 1  In fact General DeWitt had already started intensive defensive preparations before he received the alert, and on 25 November he had asked the War Department to approve his new measures and the method of co-ordination that he was pursuing with Air and Navy commanders, so that the RAINBOW 5 plan would be executed at


once if war started. On 29 November the War Department expressed its formal disapproval of any measures beyond those required by the 27 November alert, for a reason most clearly expressed in an Army Air Forces memorandum of 29 November: "The President has issued very definite instructions that he wishes Japan to take first action if such action is to be taken." 2  The disapproval did not change General DeWitt's course, and a conference on 1 December among Army, Army Air, and Navy commanders produced a joint Pacific coast defense plan that they were able to invoke as soon as hostilities began.3

The final warning that General Marshall sent about noon on 7 December also went to General DeWitt, and three hours later he and the other continental defense commanders were informed that hostilities with Japan had commenced.4  The second message announced that the War Department RAINBOW 5 plan was to be placed in effect at once against Japan, and on 8 December the defense commanders were told to prepare as well for war with Germany and Italy. The formal announcement of a general state of war between the United States and the Axis Powers followed on 11 December.5

The Army's RAINBOW 5 plan as revised through November 1941 specified that the continental defense commands should operate in wartime under Defense Category B, which under current definitions meant that they might be subjected to minor attacks. Army activity under this category would have been limited to a partial manning of harbor defense installations. As soon as accurate news of the extent of the Pearl Harbor damage reached General DeWitt he decided that the Pacific coast must operate under the higher Category C. On 11 December he directed all Army (including Army Air) commanders in his area to operate under Category C, and three days later the War Depart-


ment authorized this category for all of the continental coastal frontiers. Category C areas were those in which minor attacks were anticipated "in all probability," and required a full installation and manning of harbor defenses and the provision of other ground and of air defense forces in accordance with strengths available and the immediate outlook along the particular frontier. The continental frontiers remained under Category C until April 1943, but during December 1941 both east and west coasts and during the first half of 1942 the west coast in particular received attention well beyond what Category C specifications required.6

Defense Measures on the West Coast, 1941-42

Until the Japanese attacked in the Pacific, the United States had counted on its Hawaiian bastion and on the Pacific fleet to provide a secure barrier against any serious attack on the continental west coast. After Pearl Harbor it seemed, at the outset, that this barrier had been broken and that the 1,300-mile length of the west coast could be attacked by the Japanese in strength and almost at will. The most vital installations along this coast were military aircraft factories that had sprung up during the prewar years at Los Angeles and San Diego in the south and at Seattle in the north. In December 1941 nearly half of the American military aircraft production (and almost all of the heavy bomber output) was coming from eight plants in the Los Angeles area. The naval yards and ship terminals in the Puget Sound, Portland, San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles, and San Diego areas, and the California oil industry were of only slightly less importance to the future conduct of the war. In the first two weeks of war it seemed more than conceivable that the Japanese could invade the coast in strength, and until June 1942 there appeared to be a really serious threat of attack by a Japanese carrier striking force. These calculated apprehensions were fanned in the first few days of war by a series of false reports of Japanese ships and planes on the very doorsteps of the Pacific states.7


This was the outlook that persuaded the War Department to establish the Western Defense Command as a theater of operations on 11 December and that led it to concentrate its first attention after Pearl Harbor on the rapid reinforcement of the Army's ground and air garrisons along the west coast. When the war started, the Fourth Army had available fairly adequate harbor defense forces, 11 of the 12 infantry regiments allotted to it under the current RAINBOW 5 plan, and about 5 antiaircraft artillery regiments which lacked two-thirds of their equipment. The Second and Fourth Air Forces had only a fraction of their assigned strength in planes, and they were critically short of bombs and ammunition. During November and early December General DeWitt had requested more ground troops for defense purposes, but these were denied until the Japanese struck.8

On and after 7 December General Marshall and his staff worked feverishly to strengthen the west coast defenses as rapidly as they could. A pursuit group from Michigan began to arrive in the Los Angeles area on 8 December, but it was the reinforcement of antiaircraft artillery defenses that received the most attention during the week after Pearl Harbor. By 17 December nine additional antiaircraft regiments had been rushed from various parts of the United States to the west coast, and, with some assistance from Marine Corps units, the vital installations in the Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego areas were thereby provided with at least some antiaircraft artillery protection. The Army also moved two additional divisions and many lesser types of ground combat and service units to the west coast before the end of December and made the 3d Division, already there, available for defense use. As a result of these moves the Western theater's major Army combat units in January and February 1942 included six infantry divisions, a brigade of cavalry, about fourteen antiaircraft regiments, and the equivalent of three pursuit and three bombardment groups. The troop strength of the Western Defense Command numbered about 250,000 at the beginning of February, and of these nine-tenths were ground troops. Approximately 100,000 of the ground forces were actively engaged in manning harbor antiaircraft defense equipment, in maintaining a beach and forward patrol along the coast line, in patrolling the


Southern Land Frontier, and in performing antisabotage duties at vital installations 9

By the third week in December, as the pattern of Japanese operations and the disposition of Japanese naval forces became known, apprehensions about an imminent and serious attack on the west coast subsided. The Western theater continued to have a high priority for equipping its air and antiaircraft units, but the flow of material for its other forces suddenly dropped off. General DeWitt was told that these forces would have to await the fulfillment of more pressing needs, and he was also denied the additional infantry division and cavalry regiment that he had requested.10  His equipment shortages were further aggravated by orders that required him to make up shortages of units being shipped through the Western Defense Command to overseas destinations and to supply antiaircraft guns for arming merchant ships in Pacific coast ports. The general assured GHQ that he would not let troops go overseas without equipment "if it takes every gun I have," but naturally he wanted the items replaced and his own shortages made up as soon as possible.11  In instructions to his subordinate commanders issued on the last day of 1941, General DeWitt himself recognized that there was no longer any immediate danger of an invasion in force. By then the principal external threat to the Western theater appeared to be from the air, and "maximum air defense [was] therefore most important." 12

The Second and Fourth Air Forces, located in the Western Defense Command when the war began, were there primarily for the training of units, and they had only a secondary and very subordinate mission of providing an air defense and an attacking force along the Pacific front. At the end of November 1941 the two air forces had a combined strength of 100 bombardment and 140 pursuit planes, many of them obsolete and obsolescent types. 13  During December the Army Air Forces went through a rapid expansion that enabled it by mid-January to assign the Fourth Air Force (which by then had taken over the air defense responsibility for the entire west coast) 461 pursuit and 219 bombardment planes. Except for heavy


bombers, the Fourth Air Force was thereby provided with more planes than had been allotted to the continental west coast in December planning. 14

While the early 1942 west coast air strength looked impressive on paper, it was actually subject to many qualifications, the most important of which was that only 39 of the bombers and 239 of the pursuit planes were ready for combat action.15  Rather acute bomb and ammunition shortages continued, and the deficiencies in personnel qualified to operate the planes were even more serious. On 12 March the Fourth Air Force commander noted that his bombardment squadrons were "all dangerously short of experienced pilots and navigators, and almost totally lacking in bombardiers and trained gunners." 16  On 24 May the IV Interceptor Command reported that nearly half of its assigned pilots were not qualified to fly the planes with which its four groups were equipped-one of the four having more planes than qualified pilots. This report concluded with the observation, "Considering the handicaps imposed by lack of sufficient suitable airdromes, inadequate housing facilities, unsuitable aircraft radio equipment, [and] mass replacement of fighter units by new units with less than two weeks training, the efficiency of the Command is excellent.17  The continued preoccupation of the Fourth Air Force with training was both inevitable and proper under the circumstances, but it certainly reduced its efficiency as a defense force.

As in the cases of Hawaii and Panama, one of the most puzzling problems in air defense along the west coast was how to provide enough forces to detect an enemy carrier force many hundred miles from the coast and to attack it before it could launch its planes. The problem on the Pacific coast was complicated by much fog, and by the prospect of a Japanese carrier force sailing in behind one of the normal succession of storm fronts that moved from the northern Pacific toward the west coast. The best defense against carriers was to find and strike at them within a belt 700 to 1,100 miles offshore. The only planes that could do this were Army heavy bombers and Navy patrol bombers. The Fourth Air Force in January estimated that it would require 162 Army and 180 Navy planes of these types to perform this mission, but usually in the first five months of 1942 neither service had more than a tenth of these strengths available.18  The improvement of air-


borne radar eventually helped to solve the problem, but not during the period in which a Japanese strike remained a serious potential threat. In the first half of 1942 the protection of the Pacific coast against carrier action had to depend very largely upon the capabilities of the interceptor and antiaircraft commands for close-in detecting and defense.

How effective the close-in air defense of the west coast would have been against a determined attack such as the Japanese had launched against Oahu remained very doubtful during early 1942. The Army Air Forces was inclined to accept the wholesale strictures that the British radar expert, Mr. Robert A. Watson-Watt, leveled against the west coast's radar defenses in January 1942.19  Antiaircraft units along the coast continued to be short of guns and ammunition until summer, and they were filled with new men who had had a minimum of training.20  The Army Air Forces admitted in April that "even a light enemy force should be successful in pressing home an attack on our two big bomber plants if our air defenses were the only security provided," and pointed out that the best assurance against attack was Japan's continued preoccupation with expansion in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific.21

The only combat activity in which the Japanese actually engaged along the west coast during the months immediately succeeding Pearl Harbor was submarine operations. In its prewar basic operations order of 5 November 1941, the Japanese Navy had directed its 6th Fleet of submarines to "make reconnaissance of [the] American Fleet in Hawaii and West Coast area, and, by surprise attacks on shipping, destroy lines of communication." 22  After its participation in the Hawaiian operations, the 6th Fleet organized a detachment of nine modern submarines to attack shipping along the west coast of the United States. Seven of them were equipped to carry patrol planes, but there is no evidence that they launched planes during their December operations off the Pacific coast. These submarines, arriving off the coast about 17 December, were dispersed to nine stations from Cape Flattery in the north to San Diego in the south. They remained for about one week. Only four of the nine engaged in any known attacks on coastal shipping, and in eight or nine attacks, these four sank two tankers and damaged one freighter. All of the attacks took place along the California


coast. Claims were made at the time that an Army B-24 bomber sank an enemy submarine on 24 December at a point fifty miles off the mouth of the Columbia River, but the Japanese submarine then assigned to this station (the I-25) was the one that returned eight months later to wind up enemy submarine operations off the Pacific coast. The submarine detachment had planned to engage in a simultaneous shelling of coastal cities on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1941, but at the last moment Japanese Fleet headquarters ordered the force to abandon the plan and to withdraw immediately to its base at Kwajalein.23

Two Japanese submarines reached the west coast during February 1942. The first to arrive, the I-8, patrolled northward from off San Francisco to the Washington coast "without encountering any enemy vessels," and then returned to Japan.24  The second was the I-17, which had accounted for one of the tankers sunk during December, and which also was one of the plane­carrying submarines. The I-17 arrived off San Diego about 19 February. On 23 February, just as President Roosevelt was beginning one of his "fireside" radio addresses, it surfaced off the California coast near Santa Barbara and from a range of 2,500 yards fired thirteen rounds of 5 1/2-inch shells at oil installations. The damage was negligible. The I-17 reported that after this attack it sailed northward and sank two vessels off Cape Mendocino in northern California before returning to Japan, but there is no record of any such sinkings.25

The night after the I-17 engaged in its haphazard shelling of oil installations there occurred what became known as the "Battle of Los Angeles." A month of mounting agitation for the removal of the resident Japanese population from coastal California had preceded this event, and by the night of 24-25 February both the military defenders and the civilian population of the Los Angeles area were expecting the worst to happen at any time.26  About two o'clock in the morning a series of reports of suspicious activities was capped by word that coastal radars had picked up an unidentified plane winging its way in from the ocean toward Los Angeles. Within the next half hour a blackout was ordered and all antiaircraft guns were alerted for in-


stant fire. The guns began to fire shortly after three o'clock, the first shot being aimed at a balloon (probably a meteorological balloon) over Santa Monica on the coast. During the next hour they expended some 1,400 rounds of 3-inch antiaircraft ammunition against a variety of "targets" in the Los Angeles area. Exhaustive inquiries on 25 February accumulated a mass of conflicting evidence as to what these targets were. The Army finally concluded that there had been from one to five unidentified planes that touched off the "battle" whereas the Navy decided that there had been no excuse for the firing. It is at least possible that the I-17 launched the plane it carried to spark the confusion, although it is very unlikely that this plane flew inland over the coast line. In any event, the episode gave the military defenders of Los Angeles a realistic practice session and showed how much remained to be done to make the air defense system adequate against a serious attack.27

After the Halsey-Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April 1942, a more ambitious Japanese attack on the west coast appeared much more probable to authorities in Washington. G-2 pointed out that eight Japanese carriers had returned from their operations around southeastern Asia and that the Japanese could release at least three of the eight for a retaliatory attack on the west coast without jeopardizing successes already achieved.28  Secretary Stimson "called in General Marshall and had a few earnest words with him about the danger of a Jap attack on the West Coast," and confessed to himself that he was "very much impressed with the danger that the Japanese, having terribly lost face by this recent attack on them . . . , will make a counterattack on us with carriers." 29  General DeWitt was warned to be on his guard against a carrier attack at any time after 10 May and was told that two more antiaircraft regiments were being sent to bolster the Los Angeles and San Francisco defenses.30

The Japanese had decided upon an offensive in the north Pacific two days before the Tokyo raid, and the raid strengthened their resolve rather than determined it. Although they did not plan to attack either the west coast or Hawaii proper, both might have been put in a perilous situation if the stated objectives of the offensive had been attained.31  On 16 May the Army learned


from its Hawaiian commander that the Navy, on the basis of deciphered Japanese messages, had concluded that the Japanese would attack Midway and Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, probably on the last two days of May.32  On 16 May, also, General Marshall informed General DeWitt that a Japanese attack using gas might be expected in the eastern Pacific in the near future. During the next two days 350,000 gas masks (all that were available), protective clothing, and decontamination supplies were hurriedly shipped to the west coast.33  The Army's Intelligence Division on 17 May concurred in the Navy estimate that a strong Japanese attack on American territory was in the offing before the end of the month, but it forecast that the "first priority" target of the attack would be "hit and run raids on West Coast cities of the continental United States supported by heavy naval forces." Army intelligence held that such action was entirely within Japanese capabilities, considering the weakness of American naval power, and urged the concentration on the west coast of all available continental air power to meet the threat.34  Further interceptions enabled the Navy by 21 May to forecast with almost exact precision the timing of the Japanese attacks on Midway and Dutch Harbor, but until after the Midway naval battle the Army continued to be apprehensive of at least a raid on the west coast.35

The known Japanese threat led the War Department to do everything it could during the last two weeks of May to strengthen the west coast defenses. General Marshall himself paid a hurried visit to California on the weekend of 23-24 May and personally directed the adoption of additional air defense measures and the reinforcement of defense forces in the Los Angeles-San Diego area. On his orders, for example, finished aircraft that he found lined up in rows around the various factories were either moved inland or dispersed so that a bomb could not damage more than one.36  While the numerical increase in west coast Army ground force strength during these weeks was small (about 20,000,) the means for air attack as well as for air defense were greatly strengthened. By flying two full groups to the coast, the Army


increased heavy bomber strength from 13 to 60, and it held another group of 28 planes ready as a reserve. In addition, it flew three pursuit groups and one medium bombardment group into the area, so that the total Army pursuit and bomber strength actually present rose from about 290 to about 550 planes. Another antiaircraft regiment was added to the defenses, raising the total in position to the equivalent of seventeen almost completely equipped regiments. Three new barrage balloon battalions were added to the three that had been employed in the Seattle and San Francisco areas since January, in order to provide additional air defense protection to the Los Angeles and San Diego aircraft factories. By the end of May, too, the Army Engineers had nearly completed a thorough camouflaging of aircraft factories as well as military installations.37

At the beginning of this emergency period the Western Defense Command had a strength of about 172,000 officers and enlisted men, of whom 121,000 were in its ground combat forces. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard added about 75,000 men to the armed forces' strength present along the west coast.38  On 25 May the Chief of Staff ordered the Army Ground Forces to make all of its troops within the territorial limits of the Western Defense Command available for emergency use and specifically directed that four additional combat teams be made ready to supplement Western Defense Command forces on receipt of orders from General DeWitt. This gave his command two infantry divisions and seven infantry regimental combat teams ready for immediate use.39  The War Department made every effort to cover ammunition shortages reported by General DeWitt, and by 1 June the Operations Division judged his ammunition situation "in general, good." 40 On 27 May General DeWitt placed the Western Defense Command on special alert, and three days later the Operations Division notified him "of War Department conviction that surprise attacks on the West Coast are a possibility from now on." 41  Despite the continued paucity of means for an adequate long-range patrol, at the end of May there was little likelihood of a carrier or other serious attack being launched without


warning, in view of the accurate and detailed information being obtained about the movements of the Japanese Fleet.

The United States Navy virtually ended the threat of a serious attack on the west coast when it knocked out the Japanese advance carrier force north of Midway on 4 June 1942. Thereupon, the Japanese main fleet and the Midway occupation force withdrew, although the northern wing of the Japanese forces, after bombing Dutch Harbor, proceeded to occupy Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians.42  In effect, the Battle of Midway restored the balance of naval power in the Pacific. Although it continued for many months to be possible for the Japanese to make a carrier raid in the eastern Pacific, they could no longer do so without taking the grave risk of losing the naval strength they needed to defend their earlier conquests.43

The Japanese occupation of outer Aleutian islands nevertheless introduced apprehensions of a renewed Japanese offensive toward the Alaskan mainland and continental west coast, and Japanese submarine operations helped to keep these apprehensions alive. The first of the latter operations was a by-product of the Aleutian invasion. The Japanese had given two of their plane-carrying submarines, the I-25 and the I-26, the mission of conducting an advanced reconnaissance of the southern Alaskan coast. At the end of May the I-26 left the vicinity of Kodiak Island and sailed toward the Washington coast. One Japanese source claims that the reconnaissance plane of the I-26 "scouted Seattle Harbor and reported no heavy men-of-war, particularly carriers, there." 44  If true, this probably happened some time after the Midway and Dutch Harbor actions; and the flight was not detected. The Japanese made their presence definitely known on 20 June, first by torpedoing a Canadian lumber schooner southwest of Cape Flattery and then by shelling the Canadian radio compass station at Estevan Point on Vancouver Island. The next night (21-22 June), a submarine fired six to nine 51/2-inch shells at the Fort Stevens military reservation in Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River, doing no damage. This shelling, insignificant in itself, is notable as the first foreign attack on a continental military installation since the War of 1812. Finally, on 23 June, two torpedoes missed a tanker off the southern coast of Oregon.45


The final Japanese submarine operation off the west coast during the war was undertaken expressly as a reprisal for the American bombardment of Tokyo in April. The I-25, with its plane fitted for bombing, reached the Oregon coast late in August 1942. On 9 September, this plane dropped an incendiary bomb on a forested mountain slope near the coast at Brookings, Ore. The bomb started a small forest fire, but this was quickly extinguished. Attempts to locate and destroy the I-25 failed. After nearly a month of discreet hiding, the I-25 on 4 and 6 October torpedoed and sank two tankers off the southern coast of Oregon. These attacks marked an end to direct enemy activity off the west coast of the continental United States, although the Japanese were to plague it with their "free balloon" operations before the end of the war.46

In the meantime, as soon as the extent and significance of the Japanese defeat at Midway became clear, the Army had begun to reduce its defense forces on the west coast. General DeWitt ended the special alert along the coast on the morning of 8 June, and by that date the War Department had started to recall the air reinforcements that it had rushed to the Western Defense Command during the pre-Midway period. 47  By 24 June the bomber strength of the Fourth Air Force had been reduced to 3 heavy and 60 medium bombardment planes, far fewer than it had had before the May emergency. Both the local naval command and General DeWitt continued to urge the allocation of more heavy bombers for long-range offshore patrols, but the War Department turned them down.48 The combat teams of the Army Ground Forces' divisions within the Western Defense Command remained on an "on-call" status for emergency defense use, but under a new arrangement that did not seriously interfere with their training.49  During the summer of 1942 the Western Defense Command lost two of its antiaircraft regiments, but otherwise its assigned ground combat strength was not materially changed until the end of the year.

The west coast theater had a final touch of excitement toward the end of 1942 when, on the evening of 2 December, a Navy patrol yacht reported


an unidentified group of ten to twenty vessels about 500 miles off California and between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The War Department immediately reinforced the Fourth Air Force with two heavy bombardment groups containing 61 planes, and alerted a third group to act as a reserve. By the time the two bomber groups reached their California bases and were readied for action-early afternoon, 3 December-the vessels had been identified as those of an American convoy. Although the Air Forces carried out this reinforcement with utmost dispatch, it was recognized at the time that if this had been a Japanese carrier force as suspected it could have executed its mission and been out of bombardment range before any of the reinforcing planes were ready to attack it. It is therefore evident that from June 1942 on, the west coast lacked the air power to forestall a carrier raid, although its close-in air defenses for combating one were in good shape. In practice, the Army had already begun to apply the policy of "calculated risk" that it was presently to extend more generally to the continental defenses.50

Defense Measures on the East and Gulf Coasts, 1941-42

The Eastern Theater of Operations, activated on 24 December 1941 under the command of General Drum, contained at the outset a far larger strength in Army forces than was ever assigned to the Western Theater. During the last week of December its ground units included four army corps, eleven infantry and two armored divisions, fifteen antiaircraft regiments, numerous harbor defense forces along the northeast coast, and a large miscellany of other forces. Yet this strength was deceptive, not only because a large proportion of the units were unready for action but also and more significantly because the War Department never intended to bottle up such large forces in defense of the Atlantic front.

Before the activation of the Eastern theater, the War Department General Staff and GHQ had concluded that the most the Germans could do against the coast would be to launch nuisance air or naval attacks against exposed objectives, and even these were considered improbable. A land invasion in any strength they believed impossible as long as the American and British navies controlled the North Atlantic.51


The Army Air Forces nevertheless planned during December to allocate as much air strength to the Eastern theater as it did to the Western.52  In practice, the War Department stripped the eastern air defenses in favor of the more exposed west coast and of overseas bases. As examples, the Army temporarily closed down eight of its eleven long-range radar stations along the east coast in order to provide personnel to operate similar stations along the Pacific front; and General Drum estimated that the effective strength of the Eastern theater's combat air forces declined by three-fourths during the month following the activation of his new command. During this same period the Eastern theater also lost one-third of its antiaircraft regiments and half of its antiaircraft gun strength.53

The above examples illustrate that what the War Department had actually done in December had been to assign units to the Eastern Theater on a "tentative, tactical loan basis, pending the development and shaking down of the war situation." 54  During January and February units were removed from the Eastern theater's command with increasing rapidity, either for shipment overseas or for further training in the zone of the interior. Finally, when the Eastern Theater of Operations became the Eastern Defense Command on 20 March 1942, it lost not only its theater status but most of its larger field force units as well. The Eastern Defense Command kept only the 26th Division during 1942. This division, with two additional regimental combat teams, provided the means for supplying each of the four coastal sectors with a regimental combat team for defense against external attack, one regiment being held in reserve. The First Air Force also remained under the Eastern Defense Command, although its principal activity-overwater operations against German submarines-came under Navy command on 25 March. In actual numbers the Eastern Defense Command after March 1942 had about one fourth of the strength originally assigned to the Eastern theater in December 1941.55

The defense of the Gulf coast from Florida westward came under the tactical direction of the Southern Defense Command on 24 December 1941. On that date the commander of the Third Army and Southern Defense Command, Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, established a small separate defense


command staff, and through it controlled the Army forces specifically allocated to the defense of the Gulf coast and Southern Land Frontier.56  The strength of the forces allocated to coastal defense remained nominal from the beginning and did not include any combat air forces. As was the case in the other defense commands, General Krueger could use his Third Army troops to reinforce the coastal forces in an emergency.57  But the Southern Defense Command was virtually helpless to deal with the only real enemy threat that developed in its area-the German submarines that began to operate off the Gulf coast during May 1942.58

It was America's good fortune that Germany did not know when or how the Japanese were going to attack in the Pacific, and therefore that the Germans did not plan the extension of their submarine operations against commerce into the hitherto restricted areas of the western Atlantic until after Pearl Harbor. Furthermore, even after the Japanese attack, Adolf Hitler and the German Naval Staff directed most of the German submarine fleet to operate during the winter of 1941-42 in the Mediterranean area and off the coast of Norway, and therefore the German U-boat command could spare only 3 submarines for the initial foray off the coast of the United States in mid-January 1942, and only 6 for its February operations there. Even so, these forays began to wreak tremendous havoc. With an average of 5 and a total of never more than 9 or 10 German submarines operating along the east and Gulf coasts, the Germans in six months managed to sink some 185 ships, totaling about 965,000 gross tons, in these waters alone.59

The German slaughter of merchant shipping off the east coast continued almost unchecked from mid-January until the latter part of April 1942. During this period German submarines sank about 80 ships off this coast, and, according to their commanders, bad weather offered the chief obstacle to operations. From the beginning of April onward they noted a marked


increase in American antisubmarine activities, but they reported that at first these activities were almost wholly ineffective. The Germans lost their first submarine off the American coast on the night of 13 April; then, about 21 April, enemy submarine commanders began to report a sudden dropping off of favorable targets, and after that date the easy pickings off the east coast came to an end.60

The armed forces of the United States had in fact been almost wholly unprepared for submarine attacks off the coasts. Ignoring World War I experience and World War II practice, before Pearl Harbor they had not even planned on how they might check a submarine offensive off the American coast line.61  The defenses set up in January along the east coast were scanty and improvised. Until the end of the month, 1 Bomber Command and the 1 Air Support Command of the Army's First Air Force conducted all of the oversea air patrols along the coast. By 15 January these Army commands were managing to cover the offshore area from Hatteras northward with fifteen patrols daily, but their personnel and equipment were woefully untrained and inadequate for effective antisubmarine operations.62  Army planes continued to provide most of the regular offshore patrols throughout the period of intense enemy activity off the East Coast, operating at first informally and then (after 25 March) formally under Navy command. From the outset these Army operations stripped the east coast air forces of all offensive striking power against any other form of enemy attack, although an enemy surface attack during this period was admittedly a remote possibility. Beginning On 5 March the civilian Civil Air Patrol began to fly patrols under the auspices of the 1 Air Support Command, and its operations helped to frighten submarines away from shallow waters near the coast. Beginning in April the installation of airborne radar on Army bombers greatly increased their effectiveness and made it possible to patrol and to escort vessels at night.63


In the early days of the German submarine offensive, the most effective antisubmarine measures had been movements by night and insistence that ships hug the shore line by day. After some initial misgivings, the Army finally ordered a stringent coastal blackout to prevent submarines from attacking ships silhouetted by lights on shore.64  But, as the Navy insisted, the best defense against the sort of commerce raiding the Germans were undertaking off the American coast was the organization of all coastal shipping into convoys escorted by surface vessels and aircraft. By mid-May the Navy was able to convoy most east coast shipping. Within two months this system, abetted by the enlarged activity and improved techniques and equipment of the Army's 1 Bomber Command, brought an end to sinkings off this coast for the rest of 1942.65  Within these two months also the Germans lost six more submarines along the east coast, a factor that helped them to decide on 19 July to withdraw their two remaining submarines, which had been operating in the Hatteras area.66

After launching an attack in the Caribbean in February, German submarines in May 1942 began striking at traffic along the Gulf coast of the United States. The first U-boat to appear off this coast, on 6 May, met a warm reception from United States naval craft and had to limp back to its base in France after slim success. But the next two, arriving off the Mississippi Delta on 12 May, found rich and easy pickings. Thereafter, during May, the losses in the Gulf Sea Frontier (which included the Florida east coast) exceeded any single month's loss along the Atlantic front to the north. Late in May the Army shifted twenty-five planes of the 1 Bomber Command to the Gulf coast area to combat this new menace. Within the next two months the Navy and these Army bombers put a virtual end to German submarine operations in the Gulf, but not before the Germans had destroyed almost as many ships there as they had sunk in the preceding three months along the east coasts.67

Except for a few mine-laying operations, German submarines avoided the American coastal areas from September 1942 until the following spring, and their operations thereafter were of nuisance proportions only.68  But in


the Caribbean and in the wide stretches of the Atlantic, a steadily mounting number of German submarines continued their devastating war on shipping. To combat them the Army put its east coast bomber strength into a new Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command, activated on 15 October 1942. The story of this command, and of the issue between the Army and Navy over how the submarine menace might best be curbed, has already been related elsewhere.69

As soon as the number of ship sinkings off the east coast slackened, the Germans decided to use some of their submarines to plant mines off the entrances of New York Harbor, Delaware Bay, and Chesapeake Bay. Three submarines planted mines about 12 June 1942, Boston being substituted for New York at the last moment. Only the Chesapeake operation proved profitable. There three ships were sunk and two damaged before the mines could be swept. The mine laying off Boston, and a similar operation at the mouth of the Mississippi on 25 July, went undetected until the opening of German records after the war disclosed these actions. Five more mine-laying operations along the east coast during 1942 did no harm except to bring brief halts to shipping while the Navy disposed of the mines.70

A third type of enemy submarine activity created much excitement at the time and had much to do with keeping some Army mobile combat forces deployed along the coast during 1942 and 1943. On 13 June 1942 the German submarine U-202 landed four enemy agents on a beach at Amagansett, Long Island; and on 17 June the U-584 landed four more on Ponte Vedra Beach near Jacksonville, Fla. The plans for this operation stated that the principal objectives were to engage in "sabotage attacks on targets of economic importance for the war" and "to stir up discontent and lower fighting resistance." 71  Both groups carried ashore small quantities of TNT and incendiary bomb material; in addition, the agents had $150,000 in cash when arrested. A Coast Guardsman on beach patrol intercepted the Amagansett group as it landed, but faulty transmission of his report permitted both the submarine (which was grounded for several hours) and the saboteurs to escape. The Florida landing was disclosed the following day by fishermen who found the cache of sabotage materials. The Federal Bureau of Investi-


Photo: INFANTRYMEN ON BEACH PATROL Study incoming vessel.

INFANTRYMEN ON BEACH PATROL. study incoming vessel.

gation rounded up the eight agents between 20 and 27 June before they had done any harm, and six were executed on 8 August after trial by court martial.72

Although these landings were the only proven instances of contacts between German submarines and the shores of the United States before 1944, they stimulated both the Army and the United States Coast Guard to undertake a much more active "beach defense" during 1942 and 1943.73  The Coast Guard, which was under Navy command from 1 November 1941 onward, had begun to augment its water and beach patrols immediately after the United States entered the war.74 An Army intelligence report that German submarines had already landed agents on American shores led President Roosevelt on 6 April 1942 to order the Coast Guard to expand its beach patrol activities. As a result of the June landings, the Coast Guard on 25 July directed the establishment of an organized beach patrol system to cover the entire ocean coast line of the United States. It directed that the beach patrols be well armed and have as one duty, among others, the prevention of enemy landings from submarines or surface vessels.75

The directive of 25 July started a rather heated jurisdictional conflict between the Army and the Coast Guard. Beach defense against invasion,


however minute, was a recognized Army mission, and it appeared to General Drum in particular that if not challenged the new Coast Guard mission might be an opening wedge for the Navy to take over "the whole coast defense." 76  After much argument among subordinates, General Marshall and Admiral King issued a joint directive on 29 December 1942 recognizing beach defense as a primary mission of the Army, but also allowing the Coast Guard to continue its beach patrol activities in close collaboration with the Army--although not under Army command, as General Drum had wanted.77

The Army's means for beach defense in the summer of 1942 consisted of scattered detachments of the infantry regimental combat teams assigned to the sectors. After the Amagansett incident Army units engaged more actively in beach patrol, in some instances duplicating the Coast Guard's efforts. The joint directive of 29 December 1942 helped to eliminate local instances of friction and overlapping activity, and during late 1942 and 1943 Army units and Coast Guard stations divided up the task of coastal surveillance. The Army generally patrolled the more open stretches of beach, while the Coast Guard handled the more difficult ones that needed the support of its inshore picket patrol vessels. The Army retained small mobile forces behind the coast line that could be rushed to any threatened point. This system continued until late 1943, when both Army and Coast Guard began a rapid reduction of their beach defense forces.78

Even as this system of beach defense was being substantially improved in the winter of 1942-43, the chances of any sort of enemy attack on the coast line were growing increasingly slimmer. An Army intelligence estimate of 8 December 1942, although acknowledging the possibility of submarine, surface, and air attacks on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, nevertheless held that such attacks were highly improbable and in any event incapable of doing any great harm unless the course of the war underwent a significant change.79  Actually, the Germans still had some schemes for attacking the east coast by air, but after the invasion of North Africa it looked to the War Department as if it could safely begin a steady reduction of the Army's forces guarding the Atlantic front of the continental United States.


Guarding the Sault Ste. Marie Canal

The only activity in the Central Defense Command during World War II that involved the use of Army combat units was the protection of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and the St. Marys River waterway, which connect Lakes Superior and Huron. On the eve of the war nearly nine-tenths of the iron ore consumed in the United States passed through the Sault locks during the eight months' navigation season between March and November, and all of this traffic moved through the American locks of the Sault Canal system, located between the American and Canadian cities of Sault Ste. Marie. Since there was no other way in which most of the iron ore could be moved, the success of the American war effort was vitally dependent on continuing its flow through the Sault locks (See Map 1.)

At the outbreak of the European war the War Department ordered the commander of the Sixth Corps Area to take all necessary steps to safeguard the Sault waterway. Fort Brady, an old Army post located on a hill overlooking the St. Marys River valley about half a mile south of the Sault locks, had a garrison at this time of four companies of the 2d Infantry; troops were therefore readily available for carrying out the War Department's directive. On 7 September 1939 the Sixth Corps Area commander reported that the Coast Guard was patrolling the canal approaches under Army direction, that machine guns and searchlights were being emplaced above the locks, that Army guards were patrolling the lock area and the river channel below, and that military guards were being placed on all passenger and pleasure craft transiting the canal.80

These were the only protective measures in effect at the Sault until 1942. The War Department studied the possibility of an external attack by air as early as the summer of 1940 but decided that the chance of it was too remote to justify any form of antiaircraft defense. In fact, during that summer the Army reduced the Fort Brady force to one infantry company, since that was all that was needed for guard purposes.81

A Federal Bureau of Investigation survey in the fall of 1940 led to a re-examination of the Sault's defense needs during the following winter and spring. In January 1941 the Army presented the problem of co-ordinating American and Canadian defense measures to the Permanent Joint


Board on Defense, and the board recommended that each country establish a central authority over the local defenses. The Sixth Corps Area commander had submitted a similar recommendation. In consequence, the War Department obtained President Roosevelt's approval to an Executive order that established the Military District of Sault Ste. Marie, effective 15 March 1941. To command the district the Army chose Col. Fred T. Cruse, who previously had been in charge of the security guard for the Panama Canal. In April Colonel Cruse met with the officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who had been appointed as his opposite number, and this visit began a close collaboration between local Canadian and American military authorities that continued until 1944. In May 1941 the Army replaced the remaining infantry company with the 702d Battalion, Military Police.82

After the United States entered the war the Army was urged from many directions to provide the Sault area with troops and equipment that could defend it against external attack. As a result of this agitation, the War Department during January and February 1942 instituted a thorough restudy of the problem among its own staff agencies, and again put the subject before the Permanent joint Board on Defense.83  The Army's Intelligence Division and the Army Air Forces agreed that, while no form of external attack seemed likely, several forms of German operations against the Sault installations were possible: the Germans might send submarines or surface ships into Hudson Bay and from its nearest arm --four hundred miles away-- launch a bombing attack, or they might fly long-range bombers all the way from Norway along the Great Circle route, or they might attempt a parachute attack from planes flown from Norway, the paratroops carrying out sabotage after they landed.84

In response, therefore, both to outside pressures and to its own conviction that it was at least possible for the Germans to make a suicidal attack against the canal, the Army decided to add sizable increments to the Sault defenses. It planned to provide the area with an aircraft warning system, a regiment of antiaircraft artillery, and a barrage balloon battalion, and, finally, to replace the military police battalion with an infantry regiment that would be equipped and qualified to fight parachutists as well as to


perform routine antisabotage duties. By April 1942 elements of the 131st Infantry, the tooth Coast Artillery (AA), and the 39th Barrage Balloon Battalion were at the Sault, and by midsummer the Sault Military District contained a mixed combat force of about 7,000 officers and men 85

In the meantime the Permanent Joint Board had recommended that Canada as well as the United States undertake a more extensive system of defenses in the Sault area. The Canadians supplied an antiaircraft battalion for their side of the locks area and put it under the operational control of the Sault District commander. This Canadian battalion used American guns until the fall of 1942. In May Canada agreed to organize a ground observer aircraft warning system to cover the region between Sault Ste. Marie and Hudson Bay, and 266 observation posts were functioning in the Ontario wilderness by 1 September 1942. Canada also allowed United States Army troops to install and operate a string of five radar stations across northern Ontario, and it provided housing facilities and defense sites on its side of the Sault for about 2,000 of the American antiaircraft and barrage balloon troops.86

The one defense element that the War Department did not feel it could afford to provide for the Sault area was a squadron or more of pursuit planes. In May 1942 it ordered the preparation of three emergency landing fields in the vicinity of the canal, and it subsequently directed that local defense plans provide for planes of the First Air Force to use these fields in an emergency. Actually, the planners themselves appear to have realized that it was very unlikely that planes could reach these fields in time to participate in fighting off an air attack 87

To enhance the effectiveness of the ground defenses against hostile aircraft, the War Department in April 1942 authorized the establishment of a Vital Defense Area that included most of Chippewa County, Mich. On 29 September this area was enlarged into a Central Air Defense Zone which extended to a depth of up to 150 miles on the American side of the waterway. Canada established a similar zone to the north of the Sault Canal in early 1943. Only controlled flights approved in advance were permitted within these zones. Finally, to facilitate security measures on the ground,


the Secretary of War authorized the establishment of the Sault Ste. Marie Military Area on 22 March 1943.88

By the end of 1942 the Operations Division acknowledged that the 7,300-man garrison guarding the Sault Canal area was excessive, particularly in view of other measures taken during the year-such as the sandbagging of installations and provision of spare lock gates and other parts-that made any extended interruption of canal traffic unlikely even if the installations were successfully attacked. But it doubted that a contemplated 2,000-man saving would be worth the political repercussions that would probably follow any reduction, and therefore postponed a decision until the following summer. Then, as an aspect of the general reduction of continental defenses, the War Department ordered that the Sault garrison be cut to about 2,500 officers and men by I September 1943.89  Four months later the United States and Canada abandoned all of their aircraft warning installations and services and removed all of the local antiaircraft equipment. After January 1944 the United States Army garrison consisted, as it had before the United States entered the war, of a single battalion of military police, and even this was reduced to a single company before the end of 1944.90

The Period of Reduction, 1942-45

The Army made its first moves toward a significant reduction in the strength of ground forces assigned to continental defense in the fall of 1942. At the beginning of September, the Army Ground Forces urged that the three divisions remaining with the Eastern and Western Defense Commands be removed from them, as a step toward making available as many combat units as possible for overseas duty. The War Department merged this proposal with a plan to fix the permanent requirements of the defense commands for combat ground forces, and to fill these permanent forces with limited-service and overage men and officers-the course already followed during 1942 in mobilizing military police battalions for use in the zone of the interior. General DeWitt readily agreed to return his two divisions to


the control of Army Ground Forces and to rely thereafter on infantry regimental combat teams, cavalry, and coast artillery 155-mm. gun regiments for his mobile force requirements. But when he learned about the War Department's proposal to substitute limited-service for general-service troops in these remaining mobile forces, he protested most vigorously. Subsequently, the War Department decided to confine limited-service conversions in the defense commands to harbor defense and antiaircraft units. Then it ordered the Eastern and Western Defense Commands to release their infantry divisions, less one regimental combat team from each. With other remaining forces this change left each coast with four regimental combat teams as the principal elements of its mobile force. The War Department also directed the Army Ground Forces to maintain a reserve fox the Eastern and Western Commands by keeping one regimental combat team of each division stationed within the confines of these commands ready for prompt movement and tactical employment on receipt of orders from the defense commander.91

The application of these measures during the first half of 1943 made a large proportion of the general-service men and younger officers in the defense commands available for immediate or eventual overseas employment. But the troop strength of the Eastern and Western Defense Commands actually grew instead of contracting in the first few months of the year, primarily because the War Department allowed large overstrengths in units being transformed from general to limited service, and these units made up nearly three-fourths of the ground combat strength of the continental commands. 92

Before it could cut continental combat-unit strength much further, the Army had to change the missions of the commands as prescribed under Category C, which, it will be recalled, had been assigned to the east and west coast forces soon after Pearl Harbor. Estimates of Japanese capabilities made from December 1942 onward indicated that, while- the enemy still had the means to launch a carrier-based air raid against the west coast, such a raid was unlikely, and serious attacks against the east coast were


even less likely.93  It was also evident by early 1943 that the United States had passed from the defensive to the offensive stage of the war and that the Army must concentrate everything it could on the offensive.94  The Deputy Chief of Staff voiced a growing opinion about the continental defenses in rather blunt terms when he remarked:

The basic factors in the defense of the Atlantic and Caribbean are adequate air bases linked together by an efficient communications system. The Loran navigation system, radar, direction finding stations, and intercept units are needed . . . . These installations, plus medium and heavy bombardment, will constitute all the defense that is needed and should replace to a large extent our present outmoded system of coast artillery defense and large ground force installations. Unless the Army realizes this and organizes accordingly, the Navy will gradually take over all responsibilities except interior guard.95

The Navy agreed with the Army that reductions were in order, but it did not feel the existing description of Category B in Joint Action adequately covered the current situation. Therefore, after two months of joint consideration, the service chiefs, meeting on 13 April 1943 as the joint Board, approved a new definition of Category B and directed a reduction in the continental defense Category from C to the new B.96

Two months later the Army asked President Roosevelt to approve a policy of calculated risk that would permit a more general reduction of the continental forces. The Army Air Forces, in sponsoring this policy, contended:

The greatest danger we have to face from air attack under the present strategic situation is that moderately successful nuisance raids might influence an uninformed Congress and an uninformed press to divert a substantial portion of our offensive force to the protection of the continental United States.97

The Air Forces and G2 both acknowledged that the Germans could launch a transatlantic air attack against objectives along the east coast, but the small number of planes they could spare and the light bomb loads these planes could carry would make such an attack no more than a token effort that ought not to justify a continued diversion of American strength from


offensive preparations 98  In late June President Roosevelt approved the statement of policy submitted to him by Secretary of War Stimson, but he let Mr. Stimson announce it to the public.99

In mid-1943 the numerical strength of the forces assigned to the continental defense commands still amounted to about 379,000 officers and men. This figure-almost the peak strength of these forces after March 1942-was actually very deceptive as an index of their combat effectiveness. The First and Fourth Air Forces contained almost one-third of this strength, and their activity had long since been devoted principally to training units for overseas service. Ground combat troops within the commands numbered about 185,000 officers and men, of whom about 140,000 were in antiaircraft and coast defense units. These units and their higher headquarters had a large proportion of overage and limited -service officers and men. Thus, when the War Department began its further reductions of continental strengths in July 1943, the number of ground combat units and men within the defense commands that could be sent overseas was actually much smaller than a glance at their paper strengths might have indicated.

The impetus for new reductions came not only from the President's approval of a policy of calculated risk but also from the War Manpower Board, which in a report of 12 June 1943 recommended the abolition of the defense commands and the transfer of their functions to -the Army Ground Forces. It recommended also that only harbor defense forces and military police battalions remain specifically assigned to defense missions; all other responsibility for ground defense should be allotted to the combat units being trained by the Army Ground Forces. The Operations Division rejected these recommendations, but as an alternative it proposed various measures that, when approved, were to cut the continental ground strength by about 70,000 men between July and November.100  During June, also, a report of the Special Army Committee of the Operations Division, which had been chosen to consider a revision of the whole military program, recommended a more searching examination of the defensive needs of the continental United States and its outposts. Approving this report, the Chief of Staff on 3 July directed the Operations Division to base its calculations in the new examination on the assumption that the only remaining dangers to North


American land areas besides the Aleutians were sporadic shell fire from submarines, the landing of small raiding parties or saboteurs from submarines, and token air raids. Although the Operations Division thought a further reduction amply justified by the military situation under these assumptions, it concluded that there were already so many combat units in the United States which could not be moved overseas for another year that for the time being there was no point in removing any more from the defense commands than already authorized.101

Another step toward a demobilization of the continental defense commands stemmed from a new estimate of capabilities originating with the Combined Chiefs of Staff and approved by them on 16 September 1943. This estimate, essentially similar to the one stipulated in the Chief of Staff's directive of 3 July, became the basis for putting the continental frontiers in defense Category A, a change approved by the joint Board on 27 October. As previously defined in Joint Action, Category A applied to "coastal frontiers that probably will be free from attack, but for which a nominal defense must be provided for political reasons." Before making the new change in category, the joint Board approved a redefinition that added to this the phrase, "in sufficient strength to repel raids by submarines, by surface vessels operating by stealth or stratagem, or isolated raids by aircraft operating chiefly for morale effect." 102

In November both The Inspector General and G-3 recommended a more rapid and radical change in the continental defense structure. G-3's comment was very much to the point:

The provisions under which the defense commands are now established are unsound. The capabilities of our enemies to strike against the Continental United States are limited, at most, to nuisance raids. To withhold from offensive action a sufficient force to prevent such raids would render far greater assistance to the enemy than he could expect from the most effective raids. The existing instructions to the defense commanders place on those officers a responsibility without providing definitely defined missions or adequate means. The existence of the defense commands creates in the public mind a false sense of security. If nuisance raids are undertaken, they will, in all probability, succeed to approximately the maximum extent of their capabilities. The people of the Nation will believe that the enemy's successes were made possible by military inefficiency. The Army will lose highly valuable public confidence. The measures which we are about to put into effect for political reasons are thus likely to prove unsound politically .... The hostile situation and our own critical personnel situation


no longer justify the retention in the defense commands of any units that are not continuously prepared and available for employment in our overseas offensive effort.103 

G-3 also repeated the earlier recommendation that the Army Ground Forces take over the ground defense mission in the continental United States, but both the Army Ground Forces and the Operations Division rejected this idea and instead agreed on a much more rapid reduction of defense command forces. On 3 December the Chief of Staff approved a reduction from the current actual strength of about 165,000 to an over-all strength of 65,000, to be attained by 30 June 1944. The actual strength remaining on that date was even less; in fact, the continental defense commands by mid­1944 had been put on a strictly "nominal" defense basis.104

The disintegration of the air defense system in the continental United States during 1943 and early 1944 was more a product of the extent and character of the air training program than of a revised estimate of enemy capabilities. From mid-1943 onward, the First and Fourth Air Forces had far more pursuit strength than they ever had earlier in the war, but the planes were being used for training and they had to share the training areas along the coasts with Navy and Marine units. The result was that by August and September 1943 the coastal areas were so saturated by training flights that the aircraft warning system could not function.105  An Air Forces memorandum of November 1943 pointed out this truth and the consequences when it stated:

The amount of flying training being conducted in vital defense areas makes accurate identification of aircraft, a prerequisite to any effective air defense system, an impossibility, particularly with respect to single or small formations of aircraft.

From the political viewpoint it does not appear sound to maintain an air system which is costly in manpower and money and which, in the event of a sporadic raid, would be ineffective. Certainly the public, in such an event, would want to know why we were maintaining the system when we knew or should have known that it was ineffective. A statement that we assume the risk of sporadic raids to release manpower and materials for offensive operations would be far better than explanations as to why expensive preparations to repel such raids did not work.106

After some discussion the joint Staff Planners also concluded that "an


effective aircraft warning service cannot be maintained in coastal areas of the Continental United States (even if personnel were available) because of the volume of essential flight training in such areas." 107  In April 1944 the joint Chiefs of Staff finally adopted a new statement of policy that in effect made the War and Navy Departments rather than the regional commanders responsible for the success or failure of the remnants of the air defense system.108

During the war the Germans actually engaged in preparations for a token air raid against the east coast of the United States such as American intelligence had contemplated since the summer of 1943.109  Long before the United States became a belligerent, the German Air Force had undertaken to develop a long-range bomber that could make a two-way flight across the ocean. In May 1942 the Germans settled upon a model that they hoped to be able to fly from the Brittany Peninsula to New York City and back. Technical difficulties and the distractions of the Russian campaign frustrated this hope, and in June 1944 they abandoned work on a roundtrip bomber. The possibility of a one-way flight, with submarines to be used to pick up the crews after the bombing, offered a better prospect of success, and the Germans were working on a plan of this sort in August 1944. 110  In September German technical experts termed practicable a scheme that would have had even more startling results if successful. They had installed a launching device on a barge so that a V-2 rocket bomb could be fired from 100 miles offshore, apparently with the thought of having a submarine tow one or more barges across the ocean.111

This last scheme was probably the basis for an intelligence report that reached Washington on 1 November 1944 to the effect that the Germans were fitting out submarines to be used for a robot bombing of New York City. Both Army and Navy intelligence officers evaluated this report as "a possibility," but Navy headquarters in Washington took it more seriously. On 3 November the Eastern Sea Frontier commander was directed to institute an immediate saturation air search against submarines within a 250­mile arc to the seaward from New York and to secure the help of Army planes in doing so. Coincidentally the War Department advised its defense


Photo: JAPANESE FREE BALLOON approaching the pacific coast

JAPANESE FREE BALLOON approaching the pacific coast.

and air commanders that the Army's evaluation of the report did not warrant any positive action. The Navy put its search into effect with its own planes as best it could on 4 November, but it took three more days to straighten out the tangle of conflicting instructions from Washington so that an alert with full Army participation could be put into effect. The alert and search operations continued until 10 November, when they were called off. Nothing that the air defense system of 1944 could have done would have stopped this kind of bomb, but the episode illustrated the existing paucity of defense means and inability of the local service commanders to take rapid co-ordinated action.112

Although the Army rejected a Navy proposal for a new over-all command arrangement to be applied in emergencies of this sort, General Marshall did correct the Army's command system by issuing a new prescription: "In the event of imminent emergency as determined by the Commanding General of the Defense Command [he is authorized] to assume command of all U.S. Army Forces physically located within the boundaries of the Defense Command and to notify the War Department of measures which have been taken." 113  One alarm in December received prompt and efficient handling. On the other hand, the service chiefs were not deterred from their offensive course by these reports, and a joint memorandum to the President on 11 December stated that the "diversion of troops or effort from present missions to meet the air defense aspect of the robot bomb threat is altogether unjustified." 114


Three days after Washington received its initial warning of a robot bomb attack, the first of the Japanese "free balloons" was recovered from the sea off San Pedro, California. About ninety of these balloons-almost all of them having bags constructed of paper-were recovered in the continental United States between November 1944 and August 1945. None is known to have arrived after mid-April. The Japanese launched the balloons from the Sendai area of northern Honshu Island. The bags of the balloons were 331/2 feet in diameter and lifted various mechanisms and a load of from 25 to 65 pounds of incendiary and antipersonnel bombs. The balloons were carried across the north Pacific by high air currents in as little as four days. About 9,300 were launched, and some drifted as far east as Michigan and south into Mexico. Many landed in Alaska and Canada, and a few in Hawaii.115  They did almost no damage, and there is no proven instance of a balloon igniting a forest fire. The only casualties traceable to them occurred at Bly, Ore., on 5 May 1945, when a woman and five children on a Sunday School picnic were killed when they tried to take a bomb apart. The press co-operated in keeping balloon sightings and recoveries a secret, and the lack of news about them may have helped persuade the Japanese to discontinue the operation in the spring of 1945. 116

Why the Japanese undertook the free balloon operation is not known. A press story from Tokyo after the war stated that "the balloon bomb was Japan's V-1 weapon in efforts to get revenge for the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April 1942." 117  Japanese preparations for the operation actually began in 1942, but they may have been undertaken more as an encouragement to Japanese war morale than as a method of undermining American morale or of inflicting damage. This seems to be the import of the following bit of testimony given by a captured Japanese officer: "The bag part of the balloons which were being sent to America consisted of hundreds of small pieces of paper . . . . These pieces were made by school children all over Japan, gathered up village by village, and shipped to a central assembly place for reshipment to the factory where the balloons were finally completed." 118 In practice, the free balloon operation was so innocuous that


American military and civilian officials naturally suspected a more sinister ultimate purpose. The Army and Navy collaborated with civilian agencies in taking such immediate protective measures as were possible and drafted plans for combating any kind of warfare that the balloon operations might presage.

The enemy threats of the last year of the war had no real influence on the reduction and virtual disbandment of the continental defenses begun in 1942. Very few Army aircraft were actually used for defense purposes after the summer of 1942 except in the war against the submarine. The ground defenses reached their peak strength in effectiveness about a year after Pearl Harbor, and thereafter their actual strength declined much more rapidly than their numerical strength. After June 1943 the ground defenses were reduced as rapidly as possible under the policy of calculated risk. Hindsight may judge that this reduction should have begun much earlier, but the services had always to take political considerations into account as well as their own considered estimates of enemy capabilities. After January 1944 the continental United States had only token Army forces assigned to its defense, and even these forces underwent nearly a tenfold decrease in strength between then and the end of the war. In August 1945 the Eastern and Western Defense Commands still had a complement of about 17,000 officers and men on duty, but their active defense function had all but vanished.


page created 30 May 2002


Previous Chapter        Next Chapter

Return to the Table of Contents