Year of Confusion
The American Army served in the Persian Corridor just over four years. In November 1941 officers of the U.S. Military Iranian Mission reached Basra. On the last day of 1945, not regretfully, the remnant of, what was then called the Persian Gulf Service Command sailed away from Khorramshahr. Behind them the forces of Britain and the USSR remained in uneasy watchfulness while in the chancelleries of Moscow and London diplomats debated what date the Tri-Partite Treaty had appointed for Anglo-Soviet evacuation. Soviet reluctance to leave, discussed at Moscow in December by the American Secretary of State, combined with the revolt in Azerbaijan against Iran's authority the next spring to rock the United Nations with its first major crisis. But the departing American service troops, whose country was not a signatory to the treaty, were content to be the first to go. Argument was not their business. Their mission was to supply Russia, and their mission was completed.1
The period of American service in the Corridor falls into two phases. The first was characterized by the purely auxiliary status of the Americans, who performed construction and industrial tasks nominated by the British. These were connected with maintenance of the British line of communications and with fulfillment of the British commitment to deliver supplies to the USSR. In September 1942, only a few days more than a year after the President's Middle East Directive was signed, the Combined Chiefs of Staff ushered in the second phase by assigning to the United States direct responsibility for moving an ever increasing flow of supplies through the Persian Corridor to the Soviet Union.2 In October 1942, almost exactly a year from the date of the Letter of Instructions given to General Wheeler, Maj. Gen. Donald H. Connolly arrived in Iraq to assume command of the ex-
panded supply forces required to carry out the Combined Chiefs' directive. There followed some months of transition during which, while the Americans developed their Motor Transport Service and gradually militarized their construction and assembly activities, the British handed over operation of the railway from Tehran to the Gulf and of certain ports, and delegated numerous other responsibilities which had remained in their hands the first year. By 1 May 1943, with American assumption of effective control of movements which concerned American operations within the British zone, the transition to co-ordinate status in transport was completed. The narratives of the two phases unavoidably overlap, inasmuch as activities originating in the first survived into the second, while some activities functionally identified with the second phase actually began in the earlier period.
Wheels Within Wheels
There is something almost too neat, too precise, in the fact that the first phase of the American effort ended one year after it began. The calendar suggests a well planned and executed timetable, but nothing could be farther from actuality. The first year was marked by uncertainties, contradictions, false starts and reversals, improvisation, and experimentation. Planning and foresight often proved discouragingly futile. It was a year of confusion.
When General Wheeler reached Baghdad on 30 November 1941 to establish his headquarters there near the headquarters of the British General Officer Commanding, Iraq, all of the elements which were to complicate the American task were already in being. First were those already detailed: the involved relationships of the British, Soviets, Iranians, and Americans, and the procedural difficulties in delivering supplies to the USSR. But there were also questions as to the American task itself: what it was; when, where, how, and by whom it was to be performed. So many and varied were the factors governing the answers to these questions that an entire year passed before a clear-cut program evolved.
Numerous policy papers were produced in Washington to guide early planning, but these, widely separated from the practical realities in the field, seem oddly irrelevant when inspected among the archives. There is the War Department message of 11 September referred to in the previous chapter. It listed objectives for American aid to Great Britain in the Middle East as follows: provision for the assembly, storage, overhaul, and repair of American aviation, ordnance, quartermaster, and signals equipment furnished to British forces in the Middle
East; provision in depots for instruction centers to train British personnel in the operation and repair of American equipment, with necessary housing; and expansion or construction of necessary port, rail, and highway transportation facilities.
In addition the message stipulated that the establishment and operation of all depots and transportation facilities be by American private contractors and American civilian personnel. All of these provisions were incorporated in the Middle East Directive two days later, and reappeared in the War Plans Division's specifications for the Iranian Mission dated 24 September. This paper listed mission functions as follows: the study of British and Russian operational methods and tactics in desert country; the exchange of information and experimental equipment regarding new design, as influenced by terrain and climate; the testing and observation of American equipment in actual campaigns; the training of British and Russian personnel in the operation and maintenance of American equipment; the representing of the War Department in matters pertaining to lend-lease, especially in the supervision of supply and maintenance of equipment which would include adequate dockage, transportation, and depot facilities.
The Secretary of War's Letter of Instructions to General Wheeler, dated 21 October, was even broader. It authorized Wheeler to represent the War Department in the area and to administer and co-ordinate all War Department matters pertaining to the area; to command all military personnel, and to direct, control, and supervise all civilian personnel assigned or attached to the mission; to control and supervise American or other companies or agencies engaged under contract to further execution of the mission's functions; to establish and operate essential port, transportation, storage, assembly, maintenance, and training facilities "subject to the approval of requests for lend-lease assistance submitted by foreign governments"; to advise and assist the British, Russian, and other friendly governments in obtaining appropriate military defense aid as contemplated in the Lend-Lease Act, and to assure the most effective and economic use of such aid; to study operational methods to facilitate the use of American equipment in any future American operations; and to advise and assist the British, Russian, and other friendly governments in all phases of procurement, transport, and maintenance of United States materials, equipment, and munitions requisite to the prosecution of their military effort, and to advise and assist them in the training of their personnel in the use and maintenance of American equipment.
The several statements of objectives and duties should be taken as indicating not so much a considered program as an attempt to an-
ticipate any situation which might arise. Some of the duties, like the training of Russian personnel, were never put into effect. Others, like operation of port and transportation facilities, did not come into effect for more than a year, until certain British treaty rights over movement and transportation were delegated to the United States after the Combined Chiefs' directive. Still others, like the establishment of port, storage, assembly, and maintenance facilities, were put into effect immediately. The advantage of broad and general definitions lay in their flexibility; the disadvantage lay in their vagueness. Here was another element in the confusion which attended the reduction of generalities to specific tasks.
In that process there were wheels within wheels. There were many planners, many plans to be fitted together, many uncontrollable factors, like the progress of the war, to affect planning. Under the Middle East Directive the Iranian Mission existed to comply with "the expressed needs" of the British. Over-all plans had therefore first to be decided upon by the British, whose primary concern was with their line of communications and with their readiness to meet not only the German attack, which until late in 1942 appeared imminent from the west and north, but also the looming threat of a German-Japanese junction in the Persian Gulf.3 Supply to the Soviet Union through the Corridor necessarily came second in their planning. The Americans, who were committed to aid both the Russians and the British in the area, strove to reconcile the two obligations. The inability of some Americans in the field to understand the direction of the British effort in the area contributed not only to the general confusion but to the evidences of misunderstanding on this point with which the early files abound. This was a price the Americans had to pay for coming into the madhouse with relatively clean hands and pure hearts. They did not know enough and the few who never learned continued to feel that the British were not so serious about aid to Russia as were the Amercians. American planning, then, was conditioned by British planning, which in turn was conditioned by British local responsibilities for security; and both sets of planning were affected by the relative weight to be given from
time to time to the aid-to-Russia program. Since there was no final authority for priorities save that at the very top in London and Washington, priorities assigned or agreed at intermediate and lower levels were subject to change, with resultant confusion.
Aside from such large obstacles to smooth operations, there was the task of intermeshing British and American machinery for planning and action. General planning had taken certain British needs in Iraq into consideration previous to the issuance of the Middle East Directive, while planning for Iranian projects started from scratch in September with the British instructions to General Quinan to prepare such road, rail, and river communications as were required to move maximum possible supplies to the USSR. By the time the first Americans reached Iraq in November 1941 the British were spread over Iraq and Iran, their hands very full indeed with the new Russian-aid task superimposed upon those necessary to secure the area against Axis attack.
Although American help was for a time extended to strictly British-aid projects in Iraq, it was the British commitment to supply the USSR through the Persian Corridor that soon claimed the full efforts of the American mission and its successors. In construction (highways, docks, buildings) and in the assembly of aircraft and motor vehicles, the American projects paralleled and multiplied similar activities by the British. In transport, the core of the program of Russian aid, the British attempted to carry the entire burden themselves along with all their other commitments. But time and the pressure of mounting tonnages proved this to be unworkable. Late in 1942 the decision of the Combined Chiefs of Staff to assign the operation of certain ports, the railroad, and a supplementary trucking service to an augmented American military force overcame the long-standing arguments of those who had hitherto opposed sharing with the Americans British treaty rights over Iranian communications.
One transport operation the British neither shared nor delegated. Inland Water Transport, established as a branch of the British Army in October 1941, operated interport and river barges and certain other port functions in Iraq and Iran. In time this military office employed 200 Army officers, 600 British other ranks, and 12,000 soldiers and civilians of Indian and other nationalities. In its first year of operation (through September 1942) it moved 680,000 tons of cargo for all purposes.4
Those British activities which were shared or delegated, while not the subject of this book, are tied to the subject. The work of Brigadier
Sir Godfrey Rhodes and a staff of approximately four thousand officers and men in supervising, regulating, and assisting Iranian operation of the ISR solidly constructed a firm foundation for the American stint on the railway. In dock and road building, as well as in the organization and operation of trucking services, the British were equally busy when the first Americans arrived.
General Quinan's directive stressed the improvement of transport facilities. Under it the British brought to completion in 1942 the branch line of the railway from Ahwaz to Khorramshahr which enabled that port soon to outstrip Basra in the Russian-aid program. Basra, too, came in for improvement. The town of Basra lies about two miles inland from the south bank of the Shatt al Arab River, its dock areas being concentrated at Margil5 and on the opposite or north bank of the river at Tanuma-Cheybassi. When the British landed at-Basra in 1941 they found a workmanlike port with six deepwater berths and enough labor and machinery to work them. To accommodate the heavy demands upon Basra as the seaport of their Basra-Baghdad line of communications, the British set about adding six more berths on the river. To provide an alternative port, in case the Shatt should be blocked by enemy action, they were committed to an ambitious dockbuilding program at a desolate, almost uninhabited sand and clay waste called Umm Qasr, south of Basra on the waters of the Khor Abdullah at the border between Iraq and Kuwait. The occupation of Iran in August-September offered the Iranian ports for use in the aid-to-Russia program, thus permitting the Basra port area to concentrate chiefly on traffic necessary for British military needs. The British therefore undertook to increase dock facilities at Bandar Shahpur, sea terminus of the ISR; at Khorramshahr; and at Bushire, an ancient Persian port served by lighterage from ships anchored miles offshore, whose landward communication relies upon a rudimentary road to Isfahan. British dock construction was performed for the most part by British civilian contractors under Army supervision; while local civilian stevedoring firms and the United Kingdom Commercial Corporation (UKCC) were relied upon to unload ships and provide the sorting and warehousing at dockside that is an important link in the chain of inland clearance. The vagaries of these British contractors added only another set of complications for the joint Anglo-American effort as American responsibilities for cargoes increased.
Of all the civilian contractors, the semiofficial UKCC, with its early assignment to procure and deliver Russian-aid supplies, was the most
formidable. The inconsequential capacity of the railway in 1941 emphasized the vital part trucking would have to play in inland clearance, and this required not only the organization of trucking services accomplished by UKCC and later supplemented by convoys of British Army drivers who took over haulage of strictly military stores and ammunition but also the improvement of primitive roadways to carry vastly increased traffic. In September 1941 the British Chief Engineer, Iraq, sent Lt. Col. A. J. R. Hill, Royal Engineers, into Iran
to reconnoiter the roads. A pattern for road construction and maintenance was evolved whereby the Iranian Government, with large British grants-in-aid, undertook improvement and maintenance of roads in the British zone. A contract was agreed to and the work put into the hands of Consortium Kampsax, the Danish firm which had shared in building the ISR for Reza Shah. Under the supervision of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Kampsax, as supervising and consulting engineers, administered and subcontracted locally. It did not directly construct or maintain highways. From Tehran a British Army engineer staff of fewer than twenty officers and other ranks supervised Kampsax, which in turn administered far-flung operations. By March 1942 a force of 67,000 native workmen and 14,000 donkeys were working on roads. Using shovels and rakes and little straw baskets, hand-filled with earth, men toiled much as in the days of Cyrus and Darius. Floods plashed away some roads in the east and these were rebuilt; but this happened too when .the Americans built roads with their laborsaving machines.6
At one time or another British trucking organizations, either military or UKCC, used four routes to haul goods to Soviet receiving points. (Mad 2-inside back cover) The easternmost of these picked up at Zahidan loads brought by rail from Karachi. Trucks carried on from Zahidan to Meshed. This route, used intermittently in 1941, 1942, and 1943 for supplies arriving from overseas at Karachi and for raw materials en route from India to the USSR, was abandoned in 1943 through a combination of bad highway conditions and Soviet objections to its use.
A second route provided inland clearance north from the port of Bushire, where lend-lease trucks were being assembled for the Soviets. This route ran via Shiraz, Isfahan, Qum, and Tehran to Tabriz and was used not only for delivery of assembled trucks under their own power but for UKCC convoys carrying cargoes unloaded at Bushire.
The route was abandoned because in the early days it was too costly in manpower to protect against tribal raiders.
At Andimeshk British military trucking units and the UKCC convoys took over certain cargoes which had come up by rail from Bandar Shahpur and forwarded them by truck via Hamadan and Kazvin to Tabriz. The British used this route until mid-July 1943 when it became a part of the road system prepared by the Americans for their trucking service. Between this route and the Bushire-Isfahan-Qum route, the British also repaired a connecting road from Malayer to Qum via Sultanabad (sometimes called Arak) which was used in due course by Russian-driven convoys of American trucks assembled at Andimeshk and Khorramshahr.
The fourth British-used route, the Khanaqin Lift, came ultimately to bear the chief burden of British trucking for the Soviets, although in the beginning its Basra-Baghdad leg was heavily pre-empted for British military needs. This route started at Basra from which three types of clearance served it: the railway from Basra to Baghdad, barges on the Tigris between the two cities, and a highway. From Baghdad all cargo proceeded by rail to Khanaqin on the Iranian border, whence trucks took over by road via Kermanshah, Hamadan, and Takistan to Tabriz.7
In addition to their transport and construction activities the British forces established in the Basra area two large assembly plants. At Shu'aiba, site of the airfield maintained under the Anglo-Iraqi treaty and of a large base ordnance depot, American lend-lease aircraft were being assembled for the Royal Air Force. Near by, at Rafadiyah, where the British had large engineer base workshops, American lend-lease motor vehicles were being assembled for both British and Russian account.
Planning and Action
It was a formidable list of tasks which the Americans offered to share, and no small item in the inventory of early confusion was the fact that the urgency of war needs forced the work to proceed even while tasks were planned and allocations discussed. As happened elsewhere in the war, the machine had to be made to run even while it was being built. Two objectives vied for priority: the readiness of the British forces to meet invasion, and aid to the USSR which held top priority
in all Anglo-American global planning through the first half of 1942. A minor example will illustrate how those interrelated yet conflicting purposes increased the confusion. In his planning late in 1941 for road construction tasks in Iran and Iraq, the American engineer in charge relied upon advice from the field that adequate stocks of explosives for blasting stone would be available from local British stores. Therefore, to save scarce shipping space explosives were not sent abroad; but, when it was time to begin the blasting, it was discovered that local British stocks had been earmarked for demolition purposes in case of invasion and were unavailable for blasting. Thus British need temporarily frustrated the road building essential to Russian aid.8
As a result of the Pearl Harbor attack, existing shipping had to be spread over the whole world, while the mounting loss of ships by enemy action which followed Pearl Harbor aggravated an already bad situation. The allocation of dwindling tonnages was a factor to frustrate the most careful and foresighted planning. In the case of shipping priorities for the Persian Corridor, the very zeal of the President to render maximum aid to Russia paradoxically contributed to the long list of situations making for confusion. Deeply concerned lest the solemn promise of the First ( Moscow ) Protocol be violated because of unlooked-for demands on shipping, Roosevelt Wrote the Secretary of War:
I desire that the Soviet aid program as provided in the Protocol Agreement be re-established beginning January 1. Existing deficits are to be made up and shipped from this country not later than April 1 . . . . The whole Russian program is so vital to our interests I know that only the gravest consideration will lead you to recommend our withholding longer the munitions our Government has promised the USSR.9
After shipments to the Soviet Union had again fallen behind the protocol schedule in the following spring, the President directed Donald Nelson of the War Production Board to get materials "released . . . regardless of the effect of these shipments on any other part of our war program," and told Rear Adm. Emory S. Land of the War Shipping Administration to give Russian aid "a first priority in shipping."10 Increased tonnage of lend-lease supplies flowed out to all of the Russian supply routes, including the Persian Gulf route; there the paradox was that the high priorities which stimulated the increased flow did not apply in the same degree to the additional shipments of men and mate-
rials needed to build and operate the facilities for handling the flow of supplies. The consequent accelerating imbalance between the arrival of supplies and the ability to move them on to the Russians was perhaps the most troublesome phenomenon of the year of confusion.
From the foregoing account of complexities it is apparent that the business of determining which of the many British tasks were to be assumed by the Americans would have been difficult enough even had the machinery involved in that determination been simple. But here again nothing was simple. There was no neat funnel through which screened and co-ordinated plans could be transmitted from X to Y; and although both the British and the Americans maintained clearance and liaison agencies, translating general directives into field tasks was cumbersome.
On the British side, for example, the War Office in September 1941 instructed the Commander-in-Chief, India, to prepare lists of tasks for the United States to perform in Iraq, Iran, and India.11 One of the first of these, supply of rolling stock for the ISR, reached the British Supply Council in Washington via Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Supply, and was transmitted to Harry Hopkins through Generals Burns and George Spalding of the Division of Defense Aid Reports.12 At the same time Lord Beaverbrook communicated requests for aid through the American Ambassador at London directly to Hopkins and Harriman. Data gathered by Sir Oliver Lyttleton, Minister of State, in the Middle East were transmitted to the British Supply Committee at London, who sent recommendations for dispatch via the Foreign Office to the British Supply Council at Washington. The process in general was to funnel recommendations up from the field agencies to coordinating agencies at the top and from them across to similar American agencies which transmitted them on down to the field. As it had not been decided by early October whether General Wheeler's mission was to be attached to the General Officer Commanding, Iraq, whose command embraced Iran, or to the Commander-in-Chief, India, who commanded Iraq, tasks nominated for the Iranian Mission originated at both of these British headquarters. Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary, notified Sir Miles Lampson, British Ambassador, Cairo, on 7 October that discussion of needed tasks should go forward promptly
to enable the Americans to decide "which of these projects they will be able to undertake and when they will be able to start." To provide machinery for screening proposals from various British field agencies, Gen. Sir Robert H. Haining, Intendant-General, Middle East, a special emissary acting at Cairo for the Prime Minister, on 15 October organized within the Middle East War Council at Cairo an American Aid Subcommittee. Under his chairmanship this body undertook to remedy a condition of serious confusion which, in his opinion, arose from the independence of the several British services and agencies that found themselves competing for American-aid projects.13
On the American side the general process of planning was similar to the British. Before the arrival of the missions in the field, British requests reached mission planning staffs via lend-lease and the War Department. At this stage the Amercians were handicapped by their unfamiliarity with the regions and conditions involved; but personal consultation with British opposite numbers after the Americans arrived overseas reduced the handicap, while some early planning had to be modified to fit the realities. The Iranian Mission thus received nominations of tasks both from Washington and through its direct contact with British Army representatives in Iraq, Iran, and India. Selection of tasks, assignment of local priorities, and the devising of means of performing the work devolved, in the last analysis, upon the chief of the mission, General Wheeler, subject to the direction and approval of the Secretary of War and to the inevitable and frequent shifts of plan arising from the several causes already discussed.
General Wheeler's plans were subject to still other limitations, for he was by no means the only American charged with interest in, or responsibility for, decisions and actions in his area. There was Colonel Faymonville, already at Moscow as head of the civilian Lend-Lease Administration office there. His interest in seeing that the Russians got what had been promised them required that he keep a very close check on what was going on in the Persian Corridor. He could make inquiries, suggest investigations, consult, transmit Soviet wishes and requirements, and report to Washington his observations and suggestions. Every decision of General Wheeler affecting aid to Russia was of concern to Colonel Faymonville.
General Maxwell, who established the headquarters of the U.S. Military North African Mission at Cairo on 22 November, attended shortly thereafter the third meeting of the American Aid Subcommittee of the Middle East War Council. Although discussion at that
meeting turned chiefly upon projects in the area within General Maxwell's responsibility, the British aircraft assembly operations in the Basra area and proposals for establishment there of American-operated assembly plants were also discussed by General Maxwell as the American representative. In this informal way began an arrangement of convenience by which General Maxwell came increasingly to speak for General Wheeler's interests at British headquarters in Cairo. As time went on, and GHQ, British Middle East Forces, at Cairo, extended its responsibilities to Iraq and Iran, the interest of American headquarters at Cairo in operations in the Persian Corridor likewise increased until its command responsibility for those operations was formalized the following June 1942 by the activation of the U.S. Army Forces in the Middle East under General Maxwell.14
Another American agency whose presence in the Persian Corridor affected the decisions and acts of the Iranian Mission was the USSR Mission under General Greely. Organized as a lend-lease instrumentality on the pattern of the North African and Iranian Missions, the Greely mission had been instructed to proceed into the Soviet Union and to carry out its tasks from there. To this end its chief was provided on 5 November 1941 with a Letter of Instructions identical with those given Generals Wheeler and Maxwell, except that Greely was to render advice and assistance to Russian and other friendly governments, in contrast to Wheeler's aid to British, Russian, and other friendly governments, and Maxwell's aid to British and other friendly governments. Greely's functions and authorized powers relative to lend-lease aid to Russia were described in the same words as Wheeler's. Furthermore the War Department had left to their mutual agreement the delimitation of the geographical areas to be commanded by each. Greely arrived at Basra on 31 January 1942 and proceeded to Tehran where he established his headquarters; but the Soviet Union refused
entry or the USSR Mission as a whole, and so the War Department, early in May, abolished it. During the intervening three months, the USSR and Iranian Missions jostled one another uncomfortably in a Corridor which was already crowded.15
The number of American missions in the field directly or indirectly involved in operations in the Corridor was matched by the several agencies of the War Department concerned in the planning and execution of Iranian Mission tasks. The Air Corps was charged with the assembly of lend-lease aircraft at a site to be designated by the chief of the mission, and three of the technical services, Ordnance, Quartermaster, and Engineers, divided among them the planning and execution of tasks suitable to their special functions. A considerable tug of war ensued over the determination of the activities to be undertaken by each; data available to one set of planners were not always known to the others, overlapping and confusion continued for many months. The ordnance plan, largest of all from a monetary aspect, was abandoned after months of busy planning because of a re-estimate of the requirements in the light of changing conditions overseas. The Quartermaster Corps as late as February 1942 expected to operate two or three of the chief Persian Gulf ports although, as has been stated, American responsibility for port operation did not become effective for more than a year after that.16 It also planned for the operation of motor vehicle assembly plants, a function transferred in the War Department reorganization of 1942 to Ordnance.
Upon the Corps of Engineers fell the duty of planning and executing necessary engineering and construction tasks for the mission. On 22 September 1941 the Lend-Lease Administrator, Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., wrote the Secretary of War of the British requirements for the railway, thus setting in motion the machinery of engineer planning. Transmitted to the Chief of Staff, the problem was referred to General George Spalding and by him to the Chief of Engineers, who appointed a committee to explore and recommend. On 29 September the Chief of Engineers reported progress to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4, and on 24 October, at General Wheeler's request, instructions were dispatched to the Chief of Engineers by The Adjutant General "to permit essential collaboration between" him and the chief of the Iranian Mission.17 The Chief of Engineers was directed in addition to
furnish technical engineering advice and assistance relative to port, transport, storage, assembly, maintenance, and training facilities; to purchase and ship equipment and supplies needed by the mission; to negotiate and execute contracts for construction necessary to his tasks; and to provide the necessary engineer commissioned, enlisted, and civilian personnel. On 28 October the Office of the Chief of Engineers assigned to the Division Engineer, North Atlantic Division, New York, "the duty of carrying out the War Department instructions through a new engineer district to be established and known as the Iranian District. Lieut. Colonel Albert C. Lieber, Jr. will be ordered to report to you for duty as District Engineer for the Iranian District." Establishment of the new district with headquarters in New York, and the appointment of Colonel Lieber, followed on 31 October.18
The collaborative relationship established by War Department directive between the chief of the Iranian Mission and the Iranian District engineer requires further notice. Colonel Lieber moved his headquarters to Iraq in February 1942, and therefore, as an Army officer located in the territory of the Iranian Mission, came under the command of the chief of the mission. His responsibility for the execution of engineer tasks, however, derived via the North Atlantic Division from the Chief of Engineers. The Iranian District engineer maintained a staff of his own and his headquarters were separate and distinct from Iranian Mission headquarters. His function, subject to the control of the chief of the mission, was to execute certain mission projects; but as the Iranian District engineer was the contracting officer for the U.S. Government, the purse strings for engineer tasks were in his hands, and he exercised full control over matters of finance, procurement, and personnel related to his projects. With regard to engineer work, the functions of the chief of the mission were to make plans through his own engineer planning staff, to adopt projects and assign them priorities, and to allocate the tonnages requested to bring materials from the United States. The co-ordination necessary to the successful carrying out of mission tasks by a district engineer whose authority stemmed from the Chief of Engineers rather than from the chief of the mission was achieved by a voluntary working agreement in the field that recognized the efficacy of reposing final on-the-spot authority in the chief of the mission. The district engineer was not under General Wheeler in matters covered by the War Department's directive to the Chief of Engineers; but the work proceeded as though
he were. Difficulties inherent in a parallel or collaborative procedure were in this way reduced to a minimum.19
The Civilian Contractors
One further factor in the catalogue of confusion remains to be noted. The British forces in the Corridor had found it expedient to employ a variety of civilian contractors to carry out or to supervise, under military direction, certain tasks. Rail, highway, and dock construction, housing, stevedoring at the ports, and inland motor transport, were handled in varying degree in this fashion. Partly because of the British example, partly because preliminary American planning was carried on while the United States was still neutral, but chiefly because American resources of trained military personnel were wholly inadequate to meet anticipated requirements, the President's Middle East Directive had stipulated use of civilian contractors acting under military direction. Accordingly, the Air Corps, the Ordnance Department, the Quartermaster Corps, and the Corps of Engineers engaged civilian contractors, three of whom shipped men and machinery to the field during the first part of 1942. Serious difficulties were inherent in the contractor system: overlapping, such as that which produced in Iran in 1942 a situation where four American agencies and one British felt themselves responsible for construction of essentially the same sort of buildings in the same general location; the delicate balance of management controls between military and civilian authorities; and the still more delicate problem of the status of American civilians, legal and military, in war areas. But no other means were available to the planners to accomplish tasks largely technical in nature on the scale called for by the emergency. Furthermore, since a nation still neutral could not send an expeditionary force even if it possessed enough trained officers and men, all early planning, procurement, and shipment had to proceed on the assumption of continuance of the civilian contractor system.
Pearl Harbor removed one set of obstacles to militarization. On the day after the attack the Iranian District engineer conferred on the subject of .troops with the Deputy Chief of Engineers, Brig. Gen. Thomas M. Robins. They agreed that during the period required to train engineer forces it would be necessary to carry on with the civilian contractors.20
Systematic militarization of overseas contract activities throughout the world was decreed by a War Department directive on 18 February 1942. In accordance with this directive, such activities, with listed exceptions, were to be "terminated as soon as possible, and in each case within six months from the date of this directive."21 Activities were to be "carried out by military organizations and units to be organized in the United States and sent overseas" to replace the contractor forces. In the case of the Iranian Mission local circumstances delayed militarization well past the year of confusion and into the period of reorganization initiated by the Combined Chiefs' directive of September 1942. The first of the civilian contractors for this area to go was the one retained by the Ordnance Department. It was released on 14 March 1942. This company, alone of all the contractors, put no men into the field. The termination of contracts by the Engineers and by the Air Corps followed on 1 January and 31 March 1943 respectively; while the Quartermaster contractor (whose contract was transferred to Ordnance) remained in the field until 30 June 1943. Uncertainty as to the continuation of the several contracts hampered all stages of the work, from planning and procurement, through shipment of men and equipment, to actual operations; while the difficulties of transition from civilian to military operation, protracted during a six months' period in 1943, slowed the attainment of targets set by early planning.
As one reviews the months from September 1941 to October 1942, and those following months of long-drawn-out transition, it is apparent that the one thing needful to prevent confusion, besides the rare qualities of divination and absolute wisdom, was unified command. Unified command in the Persian Corridor was, however, impossible. Instead there evolved, through improvisation, through trial and error, and in spite of a host of difficulties, a working co-operation among the representatives of the four nations involved, which brought order out of what was, for a time, very nearly chaos.
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