Forging the Defenses of the Canal

For many years the Western Hemisphere's outstanding characteristic from the standpoint of defensive strategy had been the narrow inter-American Isthmus that stretches from Mexico to Colombia. Even after the bulge of Brazil caught the eye of Army planners the "wasp waist" of the hemisphere continued to be the more important object of attention. Its strategic importance came, however, not from its geographical position as a link between the two continents but rather from the manmade ditch that cuts across the Isthmus and links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The mobility given to the fleet by the Panama Canal is too obvious to require more than mention of the fact and the observation that a sea-minded President considered it sufficient reason for acquiring the land and building the Canal. Keeping the Canal open was a major aim of American military planners ever after.

The Prewar Defenses

During the 1930's, events and technological developments began to challenge the old axioms on which the defense of the Canal had been based. A crippling attack aimed at the locks and dams, and delivered either by an act of sabotage or by naval bombardment, had always been considered the only real danger to be guarded against. The possibility of hostile forces establishing a beachhead and moving overland to the Canal was not entirely discounted, but the absence of suitable landing places on the Atlantic side and the thick jungle of the Pacific lowlands were counted on to discourage any attack of this sort. The Army had disposed its defenses accordingly. Each terminus of the Canal was heavily protected by a concentration of seacoast armament that at one time was regarded as the most powerful and effective of any in the world. In addition, the lock areas -at Gatun, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores- were provided with field fortifications. The few planes that constituted the air defenses of the Canal were based, until 1931, on France Field, on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus. Then Albrook Field, at the Pacific terminus, was opened; but it proved to be usable only during


the short dry season.1  Coast artillery continued to provide the principal defense. Then, during the 1930's new instruments for delivering an attack emerged in the shape of the naval aircraft carrier and long-range bomber. Potential air bases from which an attack against the Canal might be launched came into being as a result of the growth of commercial aviation in South and Central America. Experience in jungle maneuvers was beginning to make a myth of the impenetrability of tropical forests. Finally, the Army's ability to move outside the Canal Zone and take defensive measures within the territory of the Republic of Panama was sharply curtailed by the changing relationship between the two countries. Although sabotage remained the most likely danger, air strikes by either land-based or carrier-based planes came to be regarded as the most serious threat because of the wider holes in the defense against them.

At the beginning of 1939 the bulk of the garrison defending the Canal was divided between two separate sectors that were about as far apart organizationally as they were geographically. The Pacific Sector had a slight preponderance of force. Assigned to it were the 4th Coast Artillery Regiment, the 33d Infantry, and a battalion of the 2d Field Artillery. At the opposite end of the Canal, in the Atlantic Sector, were the 1st Coast Artillery Regiment and the 14th Infantry. Antiaircraft units made up part of both coast artillery regiments. In addition to these troops assigned to the sectors, certain units were directly under the commanding general of the Panama Canal Department. These department troops included air units-the 19th Wing (composite), with about 28 medium bombers, 14 light bombers, 24 pursuit planes, and a few trainers and utility planes-plus a regiment of combat engineers, together with Signal Corps, quartermaster, and ordnance units, and other service and administrative detachments. The total strength of the garrison-sector as well as department troops-came to approximately 13,500 men.2  To the Army garrison had been given the mission of protecting the Canal against sabotage and of defending it from positions within the Canal Zone. Close-in defense was thus an Army responsibility except for two specific tasks: that of providing an armed guard on vessels passing


through the Canal, and that of maintaining a harbor patrol at the entrances to the Canal. Both of these tasks were entrusted to the Navy, along with its primary responsibility for offshore defense. The Army air forces in Panama were to be prepared to assist the Navy in its major task of detecting and repelling enemy forces at sea, but only so far as air bases within the Canal Zone would permit-and only to an extent agreed upon by the local Army commander.3  At the top of the military hierarchy was the commanding general of the Panama Canal Department. Directly under him were the commanders of the 19th Air Wing and of the two sectors, each one of which was independent of the other.

The recurrent crises in Europe during 1938 made the weak spots in the defenses of the Canal seem glaring indeed. With respect to antiaircraft, coast artillery, and air forces, the situation was particularly acute. The actual strength of the two coast artillery regiments was inadequate for the proper manning of the seacoast defenses, and as a result the infantry troops had to be given double assignments and dual training. The existing system of fixed antiaircraft batteries lacked, it was believed, sufficient depth and mobility to offer an effective defense against high speed, high altitude bombers. The air force was equipped with obsolete planes. France Field had been outgrown for some time, and room for expansion was lacking. The main runway of Albrook Field was still under construction.4  Moreover, it had become increasingly clear that by the time hostile planes came within range of the existing Army defenses it would be too late to prevent them from delivering an attack on the Canal. Effective air interception would require long-range patrols, radar installations, and a screen of outlying bases. Not one of these requirements was available. Potential bases existed in the Antilles, the island chain guarding the Atlantic approaches. The Pacific approaches to the Canal had no similar cover.

During 1939 plans and measures for reinforcing the defenses began to overtake the circumstances that had set the plans on foot. In early January, as soon as it appeared that Congress would authorize an increase in the garrison and provide the necessary funds, the War Department moved to reinforce the coast artillery and air defenses. The War Plans Division calculated at that time that approximately 6,580 coast artillery troops, divided almost equally between antiaircraft and harbor defense, would become avail-


able. This would make possible a reorganization of the coast artillery garrison into two antiaircraft and two harbor defense regiments, one of each type to be assigned to each of the two sectors. Maj. Gen. David L. Stone, in command of the Panama Canal Department, indorsed the proposal but urged that no troops be sent until housing was available.5  In the meantime his headquarters prepared a plan for organizing a separate coast artillery brigade as soon as the reinforcements arrived. As for the air defenses, the problem was primarily one of replacing the obsolete planes. But modern planes could not use the old airfields. On 17 April the main runway and radio control tower at Albrook Field were put in operation, and by mid-June the old, outmoded B-10's had been replaced by thirty new B-18 bombers.

Early in January General Stone formally recommended extending the defenses of the Canal westward into the Pacific. Only three possibilities offered. The Galapagos Islands, belonging to Ecuador, were the most favorably placed. A group of five good-sized islands and ten small ones lying about 1,000 miles southwest of Balboa, the Galapagos could be developed as an advanced base and radar station. About 500 miles westward from Balboa was Cocos Island, a possession of Costa Rica. Less than half the size of the District of Columbia and lacking a good harbor, Cocos Island could have but limited utility, chiefly as an advanced station for the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS). Of even less potential usefulness was the tiny rock belonging to France and known as Clipperton Island, which jutted up out of the open Pacific 2,000 miles to the northwest of Panama; but the fact that it was a European possession made it of interest. Proposals that the United States acquire Cocos Island and the Galapagos group had cropped up periodically ever since 1917. Although not unfavorably disposed toward the idea, the War Department during the early 1930's refrained from urging or even recommending it, no doubt because the matter rested within the Navy's sphere of primary interest. The delivery in 1937 of the Army's first B-17's spurred advocates of a long-range bomber program to greater efforts toward enlarging the role of the Air Corps in coastal defense to an extent commensurate to the range of its planes.6  The airmen made little headway, and Army officers in Panama continued to chafe under the necessity of depending upon naval aviation for offshore reconnaissance. A survey party sent out by


General Stone at the end of 1938, after rumors had circulated that the government of Ecuador was considering selling the Galapagos, found sites for airfields, seaplane bases, and AWS stations and reported suitable seaplane anchorages and radar sites on Cocos Island. This was the basis for General Stone's recommendations of 5 January 1939 that steps be taken to acquire the islands either by purchase or by an "exclusive" lease "for the purpose of establishing thereon such advanced naval air bases and AWS stations as may be necessary.7  He set forth his position as follows:

In order to take full advantage of the increase in our air power and enable it to develop its full offensive and defensive strength, we must have outlying bases located at a distance from the Canal in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Such bases will enable our defensive air forces to engage an attacking air force before it can arrive within effective bombing range of the Canal, and will also serve as advance AWS stations and furnish the necessary warning to all components of our defense forces ....8  

He was aware, General Stone continued, that his recommendations involved

. . . a strategic matter for which the Navy is primarily responsible, yet it is obvious that the Army, which is primarily responsible for the close-in (tactical) defense of the Panama Canal, is vitally interested in any measure which will strengthen the defense of the Canal against air attack and, for this reason, I deem it incumbent upon me to submit this matter for the earnest consideration of higher authority.9  

General Stone's views were strongly reinforced by the fact that two resolutions were before Congress calling for the acquisition of the islands. Both the War Department and the Navy began to take a more positive attitude. The Navy Department, although not inclined to appear as sponsor of the proposed measures, was willing to recommend their passage. The Army War Plans Division got as far as preparing a statement for the Chief of Staff recommending that the War Department indorse the proposals. But in the meantime President Roosevelt had decided that the acquisition of any territory belonging to the other American Republics would not be in the public interest, and on 2 June the War Department informed General Stone of the President's decision.10  The question of whether or not to acquire the islands thus passed beyond the province of the War Department, but it was not a matter that the authorities in the Canal Zone were in haste to drop.


In a report to Washington in mid-June, General Stone referred to his letter of 5 January and ended with the following:

Any plan of air defense . . . which fails to make provision for destroying the carrier before its bombers are launched . . . is a defective plan. It is apparent therefore that, until our Government obtains the use of the Galapagos and Cocos Islands as advanced stations for both aircraft warning service stations and operating bases, the Panama Canal will continue to be exposed to surprise raids from carrier-based aircraft on the Pacific side.11  

His suggestion that 999-year leases be negotiated for this purpose was considered by the War Department to be "tantamount to purchase," and therefore contrary to national policy, and to be inconsistent with the joint defense plan drawn up by the local commanders in Panama. Operating airdromes in the Galapagos Islands or on Cocos Island were not essential to the accomplishment of the Army's mission, the War Department now held; and as for the new radar equipment for which funds had been appropriated, none of it was to be installed in any foreign territory except the Republic of Panama. Since overwater search was considered a Navy function, the War Department decided that "provision of Army installations for that purpose will not be considered at this time." 12  Less than a month afterward the Germans invaded Poland and World War II had begun.

In the extension of the Canal's defenses into Panamanian territory just as in the matter of acquiring the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island, defense needs as viewed from Army headquarters in the Canal Zone ran into the complications of national policy as laid down in Washington. In both cases, the ends sought by General Stone were eventually achieved, but not by the exact course he recommended.

By the beginning of 1939 the need of additional airfields in the vicinity of the Canal had centered on a privately owned field at the beach and ranch resort of Rio Hato, some fifty-five or sixty miles from the Canal Zone, on the northwestern shore of the Gulf of Panama. As early as 1932 flyers from the Canal Zone had discovered that the Rio Hato field offered a good opportunity for them to put in flying time while enjoying some pleasant recreation too, and the place was soon leased by the Army for the nominal sum of one dollar per annum.13  The increase in rental to $2,400 in 1937, and then to


$4,800, no doubt reflected the conversion of the field to more serious purposes, so that by the fall of 1938 General Stone could write as follows:

We see in Rio Hato all the basic requirements for operations of planes of all types under any conditions of weather that we may expect. Its potentiality for expansion into a very large field is such that I consider it indispensable to the contemplated Air Corps expansion program in this Department.14  

General Stone urged, as he had on previous occasions, that the field be purchased outright and developed as an operating base. Early in January 1939 he informed the War Department that, if the Rio Hato field were obtained, no other operating airfields would be needed outside the Canal Zone. An official visitor from the War Plans Division concurred in General Stone's estimate of the importance of the Rio Hato field, but the War Department took no action except to ask the general for a priority list of sites that might be acquired if the Air Corps augmentation program received Congressional approval. As was to be expected, Rio Hato headed the list, followed by nine other possible sites of lesser importance.15  It was also to be expected that as soon as the Army became interested in using Rio Hato for official purposes the Panamanian Government would enter the picture. As long as the tactical use of the field was merely incidental, the arrangements could be made informally, directly with the owner of the property; but as the field became more important to the Army and the possibility of buying it was raised, the negotiations became a matter of public, rather than private, concern.

This particular point was one on which the treaty of 1936 made important concessions to Panamanian sovereignty. Under the old Hay-Varilla Treaty of 1903 the United States had enjoyed plenary authority within the Canal zone and the right to acquire, control, and use any lands outside the Canal Zone that might be required for the operation and protection of the Canal. The procedures were entirely unilateral. In the case of public lands the American authorities merely notified the Panamanian Government that the land was being taken over; in the case of privately owned lands the United States was given the right of eminent domain and the privilege of acquiring the land at pre-1903 values. The new treaty, signed on 2 March 1936 but not yet ratified by the beginning of 1939, proposed to change the old relationship to one of co-operation and partnership. Both countries recog-


nized "the maintenance, sanitation, efficient operation and effective protection of the canal" to be a joint obligation; and if, for this common purpose, "some new unforeseen contingency" should make the use of additional lands necessary, the two countries agreed to agree on the requisite measures. In the economic and commercial field also, and in the matter of the Canal annuity, the United States deferred to the sovereign rights and material interests of the Republic of Panama. Consultation between the two countries, through the normal channels of diplomacy, was provided for on questions of general security. Under the old treaty, the United States had claimed the right to employ its armed forces anywhere within Panamanian territory at any time and in any way that seemed necessary. Article X of the new treaty, which provided that in case of war or threat of aggression the two governments would take action to protect their common interests and would consult each other regarding any measure deemed necessary by either one but affecting the territory of the other, was considered by the Army as setting aside the old treaty prescription. Whatever might be permitted in an emergency, it was not at all clear that, under the new treaty, maneuvers and training exercises could be held outside the Canal Zone in time of peace. The Army objected to these various limitations on its freedom of action, especially when aviation developments and what a predecessor of General Stone called "other possible long range instrumentalities of offensive warfare" were making necessary an outward thrust of the Canal's defenses. Reluctance on the part of the United States Senate to accept the limitations of the treaty was at least partly responsible for the delay in ratifying it; and General Stone's desire to take advantage of the delay was chiefly responsible for the urgency with which he pressed the acquisition of the Rio Hato airfields.16  

Although Secretary Cordell Hull had assured the War Department in the spring of 1938 that the new treaty "in no way modified" the right of the United States to employ its troops or acquire additional lands outside the Canal Zone, the War Department made no effort to test Mr. Hull's interpretation until the treaty had been formally accepted by Panama through an exchange of notes dated 1 February 1939.17  On 23 February the War Department notified General Stone of its intention to request the State Department "to initiate action tending toward acquisition . . . of lands in


Republic of Panama needed for the defense of Panama Canal. These lands include Rio Hato and outlying emergency landing fields, stations for aircraft warning service, trunk roads, searchlight positions and access roads, Harbor Defense items and cable rights of way . . . ." 18  At the same time a request for the necessary funds was included in Air Corps estimates for the next fiscal year. General Stone asked for and received authority to negotiate directly with the Panamanian Government, which he found willing to co-operate but only on the basis of a 999-year lease, not a sale, of the land. Almost four months afterward, on 17 June, the War Plans Division, noting the request for funds and calling attention to General Stone's negotiations, recommended that the approval of the State Department be sought for any proposed lease; and the State Department, although seeing no bar to a 999-year lease in any provision of the new treaty, believed it best to defer action until Congress ratified the treaty. This Congress did on 27 July, after appropriating $400,000 for acquiring the defense sites in Panama.19  

Although arrangements for pushing the defenses out into Panamanian territory were further advanced than General Stone's proposals regarding the Pacific islands, nothing concrete had been accomplished in either case except an allocation of funds for the former. The question of acquiring island bases in the Pacific seemed to be definitely buried. As for the defense sites in the Republic of Panama the War Department was awaiting the signal from the State Department with desks cleared for action.

Only a small start had been made to provide the housing for the additional Coast Artillery troops authorized the previous January. The general program of expansion depended on Congressional approval in the shape of appropriations and, until this was forthcoming in June, when the sum of $50,000,000 was made available, only a limited amount of construction could be undertaken.

All this time events in Europe had been rushing headlong toward their climax. After breaking up the Republic of Czechoslovakia and establishing a German protectorate over most of its former territories, after reincorporating Memel into the Reich and demanding the return of Danzig, after tearing up the naval treaty with Britain, abrogating the nonaggression pact with Poland, and signing a pact of peace with Russia, Hitler in the early morning hours of 1 September 1939 flung his armies across the Polish frontier. Bound 


to Poland by treaty, Britain and France mobilized, and on Sunday, 3 September, both countries came to the aid of their hard-pressed ally.

Emergency Measures, August 1939-January 1940

Throughout the August crisis the United States Government had carefully followed the course of events in Europe; and while it cherished the hope that the crisis might pass, at the same time it recognized the necessity of preparing for the worst. On 22 August the War Department notified General Stone that "if war breaks out in Europe" two regiments of infantry, totaling 2,678 men, with full field equipment, would be sent to Panama "immediately." The War Department also proposed to send 898 filler replacements for the antiaircraft troops, to double the pursuit plane strength, and to speed up the authorized construction.20  On the next day, 23 August, the announcement came of the Nazi-Soviet pact. Personal appeals from President Roosevelt to Hitler, to the King of Italy, and to President Ignace Moscicki of Poland failed to halt the march of events.

Plans for protecting the Canal against sabotage during an international crisis of this sort had been drawn up in Panama and given constant study ever since the spring of 1936. Now, steps to put them into effect were quickly taken. Three basic measures had been provided for: first, the installation and operation of special equipment in the lock chambers, designed to detect underwater mines and bombs and to prevent damage from this cause; second, the restriction of commercial traffic to one side of the dual locks; and third, the inspection of all ships before they entered the Canal and the placing of an armed guard on vessels while in transit through it.21  These measures were instituted between 26 August, when the President gave Secretary Harry H. Woodring the signal to go ahead, and 1 September. At first the Canal authorities exempted from the inspection and guard requirements all American flag vessels, foreign passenger liners on regular runs and carrying more than twenty-five passengers, and British or French cargo ships that were "known to the Canal" and on a regularly scheduled voyage; but the War Department immediately insisted on the regulations being applied without


distinction, without regard to the "nationality, size or character" of the vessel. Ships of war "of foreign powers with whom we are on diplomatically friendly relations" were the only exceptions the War Department recognized.22  

The only discretion the War Department permitted was in the size of the armed guard; but this alone gave the Canal authorities considerable latitude in applying the regulations. Vessels were grouped in several categories on the basis of their size, nationality, and potentiality for mischief, and a corresponding transit guard was provided that varied in numbers from two to twenty-five men. The plan had been for the Navy to furnish the men for the guard; but when it was put into effect the Fifteenth Naval District was so short of manpower that the Army had to take over this function temporarily. The 18th Infantry Brigade, consisting of the 5th and 13th Regiments and numbering 2,678 officers and enlisted men, had been earmarked for Panama should some emergency require that the garrison be reinforced. As soon as it was decided to institute transit guards, the War Plans Division asked General Stone whether in view of the decision he would like to have the brigade or any part of it sent to Panama immediately. The reply was prompt: "For security and guarding of canal desire 18th Brigade be sent to Canal Zone with full field equipment including peace allowances, motor transport and heavy tentage." 23  Preliminary steps to start the brigade on its way were taken at once. Sometime between the end of October and the middle of November the troops arrived. They were a welcome addition to the garrison.

Not all of them seem to have been required for transit guard duty. In February 1940 the commander of the Pacific Sector, in submitting a plan for reorganizing the garrison, recommended a strength of 376 for the transit guard. Some months later, after the guard system had been tightened, departmental headquarters figured that this duty would require the services of 16 officers and 248 enlisted men; in June 1941 when the guard was further increased, 450 men were considered necessary; and later in 1941 a full battalion was employed to furnish the transit guard details, although, according to an official headquarters historian, "this number was in excess of the actual needs . . . ." 24  The number of men needed depended, of course, on the


amount of traffic, the stringency of the system, and the rate of rotation. In August and September 1939 an average of fifteen or sixteen vessels were passing through the Canal each day; but of these about 68 percent were vessels of American, British, French, or Dutch registry, which took a transit guard of only ten or fifteen men or less.

Other reinforcements, in addition to the 18th Infantry Brigade, were sent off to Panama immediately. Two antiaircraft detachments, totaling about 30 officers and 868 enlisted men, were dispatched early in September in order to bring the units in Panama up to their allotted strength. At the same time, after hurried arrangements were made with Mexico and the Central American Republics, thirty new P-36 fighters were flown down to reinforce the air garrison. The coast artillery reinforcements, which had been held back pending completion of the housing program, were now sent forward, although the construction program had barely started.25  

In conjunction with the antisabotage measures and the dispatch of reinforcements a third step was taken to meet the emergency occasioned by the outbreak of the European war. This was an administrative step taken on 5 September when the President by virtue of his authority under the Canal Zone Code directed the Commanding General, Panama Canal Department, to assume exclusive control and jurisdiction over the Canal and all its adjuncts and appurtenances, including the government of the Canal Zone. In normal times the commanding general and the Governor shared responsibility for the safety of the Canal; but in time of war, or whenever the President considered war to be imminent, the intention was that the commanding general would assume full responsibility. This was done in 1917, four days after the proclamation of war with Germany. In 1939, at the end of August the War Plans Division urged that the law be invoked as soon as the President issued a proclamation of neutrality or emergency; and only to this extent was there a departure from the 1917 precedent.26  

While these emergency measures were in progress, they and defenses at Panama were being subjected to further continuing study. The air commander in Panama, Brig. Gen. Herbert A. Dargue, reported to General Arnold that he could see no sign of construction activity at either France




or Albrook Fields and that he was "a little impatient" about it. But he did not want the flow of reinforcements stopped on this account.27  Both the Chief of Coast Artillery and the Commanding General, Panama Canal Department, formally called attention to the inadequacy of the antiaircraft armament. The former urged that an extra gun be provided for each 3-inch battery, which would be an increase of twenty-five guns; the latter forwarded to the War Department, almost simultaneously, a report that came to just about the same conclusion. The question of installing long-range radar stations, which had been under consideration since midsummer, was brought to a decision when the Chief Signal Officer and the Chief of Engineers agreed with the War Plans Division that two sets should be installed immediately and three others when FY 1941 funds became available. The Federal Bureau of Investigation entered the picture with a memorandum for the President that offered a critical view of the situation in Panama, based, so it seemed to the War Department, on conditions existing before the recent emergency measures were taken.28  One voice of protest -that of the governor- was raised. Although the commanding general, as soon as he took over the government of the Canal Zone, had seen to it that all the existing regulations and administrative machinery continued, the Governor, after two months of military control, was convinced that a return to something like his former position was desirable. The Governor argued that the Neutrality Act of 4 November 1939 and President Roosevelt's reassurances that the United States did not "intend" to get involved in the war


made inapplicable the legal provision on which military control was based. In any event, the Governor continued, "military control" was unnecessary since he and his chief assistant were Army officers themselves. But the Governor's arguments did not move the War Department, The War Plans Division disposed of them flatly and concisely by stating that the existing system was "working satisfactorily" and that to change it "might have the undesirable effect of creating the impression that safeguarding the Panama Canal has become less important." 29  

Reorganization and Expansion

The arrival of reinforcements in the fall of 1939 and the certainty that more were on the way permitted a reorganization of the old pyramidal command structure. Discussion and study at General Stone's headquarters in September and early October revealed dissatisfaction with the two-sector system and produced a plan abolishing the sectors and organizing all the ground forces and defensive installations into a permanent mobile force, with a sector organization of its own. The first step was to remove the antiaircraft troops from the sector commands, which was done on 16 October by the creation of the Panama Provisional Coast Artillery Brigade (AA).30  Possibly because a change of commanding generals was scheduled for the beginning of the year nothing further in the way of reorganization was attempted for the time being.

In January 1940 General Stone completed almost three years of duty as Commanding General, Panama Canal Department, and was succeeded by Maj. Gen. Daniel Van Voorhis, who came to his new post from command of the Fifth Corps Area. One of the first tasks the new commanding general undertook was to complete the reorganization.

The immediate impetus was a letter from the War Department instructing the commanders in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Canal Zone to submit, for the consideration of the newly created Air Defense Board, a complete study of the problem of defense against air attack, including the role of antiaircraft artillery, Aircraft Warning Service, and "the proper types, numbers and organizations and coordination of means and agencies required." 31  The


case for abolishing the sector commands, forcefully presented by both General Dargue and Maj. Gen. Ben Lear, commander of the Pacific Sector, and for immediately creating a mobile force, impressed General Van Voorhis and received the blessing of General Marshall. The latter, who at the time happened to be inspecting the defenses of the Canal, seems to have given his informal approval to the plan early in February, after a conference with General Van Voorhis on Monday, 5 February. The harbor defense units, which had remained under the sector commands after the creation of the antiaircraft brigade, were now merged with the antiaircraft units into the Panama Separate Coast Artillery Brigade (Provisional). The infantry and field artillery, with some of the Quartermaster and Signal Corps troops, were grouped into the Panama Mobile Force (Provisional). Command of the mobile force was given to General Lear, and the Coast Artillery Brigade, which was reported by the New York Times to be the largest and most heavily armed artillery unit in the Army, was placed under the command of Brig. Gen. Sanderford Jarman. These changes and the abolition of the Atlantic and Pacific Sectors were put into effect by General Order No. 5, issued by General Van Voorhis on 16 February 1940. Formal approval by the War Department followed; two months later.32  General Lear's headquarters and the bulk of the mobile force remained on the Pacific side of the Isthmus. On the Atlantic side, within an area that corresponded roughly to the old Atlantic Sector, the mobile forces were commanded by General Lear's representative-Brig. Gen. Joseph M. Cummins, former commander of the Atlantic Sector. The new organization may well have been a more centralized and functional structure than the old; that it provided a more uniform distribution of staff work was clear and unquestionable.

Reinforcements had been arriving in Panama in a steady stream. At the end of January 1940 the strength of the garrison stood not quite at 19,500 men; by the end of April it had risen to approximately 21,100.33  General Van Voorhis was assured that his recommendations for an orderly and balanced augmentation would be for the most part carried out. Funds to complete the Aircraft Warning Service project would be obtained "at the earliest opportunity," the War Department notified him. Additional antiaircraft guns would be sent. A third infantry regiment was approved, as


well as a mechanized reconnaissance company (minus 3 platoons) and another field artillery batallion "subject to the availability of personnel." 34  

The new arrivals had so far outdistanced construction that a serious shortage of housing existed. At Albrook Field enlisted men were sleeping in the hangars, and at other stations the troops were quartered under canvas. Indecision in Washington about the type of contract delayed the arrival of contractors' forces until July 1940-one year after construction funds were made available. Until then all the construction work was done by the troops themselves. Tropical rains, the continued influx of troops, and frequent tangles of red tape between the different branches of the garrison added to the difficulties. 35 The Panama experience, how plans for deferring reinforcements until housing was ready could give way under the pressure of emergency, set a pattern that was to recur again and again at the newer bases in the Caribbean and the North Atlantic.

Among the legacies inherited by General Van Voorhis was the question of defensive positions outside the Canal Zone-particularly the Rio Hato airfield and the emergency landing strips that had been the subject of so much discussion with the Republic of Panama. In September 1939 the conduct of negotiations had been taken over by the State Department in collaboration with the War Department. No word of their progress was received by the Panama Canal Department until late in February 1940 when a draft of the proposed form of lease was sent to General Van Voorhis who objected to the article defining American jurisdiction within the leased areas. 36  The Rio Hato field had been put to use constantly under the terms of the agreement made with the owner of the place. In April 1940 General Van Voorhis designated the area as a "Department Training Center" over the objections of General Dargue who wished to develop Rio Hato as a subpost of Albrook Field, under control of the 19th Wing. 37  

Midsummer of 1940 brought to bud a project that had existed as an idea for decades, and one which, in 1940, had been halfway to completion for at least ten years. Even before the Canal was officially opened, some interest had been shown in a transisthmian highway as an adjunct to military communications across the Canal Zone. No active steps in furtherance of the idea were taken until 1928 when work on the Madden Dam was started. Then, in order to give access to the dam site on the Chagres River, a road was built


that connected with the highway system of the Canal Zone. Thus a through road from Balboa halfway across the Isthmus was provided. The Madden Dam road was so constructed as to be suitable for inclusion in a transisthmian highway, but further action on closing the 24-mile gap between the dam and Colon was deferred by questions of jurisdiction, cost, and utility. 38  From time to time during the early thirties, the commanding generals of the Panama Canal Department urged the completion of the highway. For purposes of defense they preferred a route either within the Canal Zone or under military control, but the highway convention which formed part of the Treaty of 1936 specified a road from Madden Dam through Panamanian territory to the Canal Zone boundary at Cativa, near Colon. In July 1940, a year after the convention went into effect, the G-4 Division and the War Plans Division of the General Staff were giving serious study to the question. Although the Chief of Engineers likewise objected to building the highway outside the Canal Zone, the consensus of the War Department was that work should get under way immediately, over the route outlined by the convention, and that the entire expense should be borne by the United States. The President gave his approval on 15 August; the Budget Bureau on 4 September allocated $4,000,000 from the President's Emergency Fund; the Panamanian Ambassador approved the arrangements on 6 September; and in October the actual construction began, under the supervision of the United States Public Roads Administration. It was hoped that a 20-foot wide, concrete highway would be completed by September 1941. 39  Not long after construction of the highway was started, negotiations with the Panamanian Government were entered into for the purpose of acquiring a right of way for an access road from Panama City to the new searchlight and antiaircraft positions obtained outside the Canal Zone, between Panama City and Madden Lake. The War Department soon decided that this road, known as the P-8 road, would serve better than the existing Canal Zone highways as a link in the transisthmian highway. If the P-8 road were extended to Madden Dam, transisthmian traffic could be diverted away from the vicinity of the canal and the security problem thereby lightened. The additional funds required for building the P-8 road according to the specifications of the transisthmian highway were obtained in the spring of 1941, and at the same time plans for building a


Photo: PANAMA AIRFIELDS. Balboa and Albrook Field.

PANAMA AIRFIELDS. Balboa and Albrook Field (top). Rio Hato (bottom).



bypass around Madden Dam were adopted. Construction of the expanded P-8 project was transferred from the Army Engineers to the Public Roads Administration in September 1941. 40  

Meanwhile, the scarcity of labor and delays in obtaining delivery of materials had slowed down construction of the Madden Darn-Colon highway. After the United States was thrust into the war, Army Engineers and their equipment joined the contractor's forces in opening up the last section of the road. On 22 April 1942 a battalion of field artillery with one hundred vehicles traveled the road from ocean to ocean, although it was not completely paved.. By the end of May the paving was finished and an all-weather transisthmian highway was at last a reality, but traffic was restricted to military and other official vehicles until the P-8 road and the Madden Dam bypass were completed in April 1943. 41  

The year 1940 also saw the beginning of another project, which, like the transisthmian highway, had been "in the cards" for some time past. Concern over the possibility that the Canal might be put out of operation by sabotage or aerial attack against the lock system had on various occasions given rise to proposals to construct another canal either in Nicaragua or across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, to convert the Panama Canal into a sea-level waterway, or to build an additional set of locks. Of these several proposals, the War Department favored the third on grounds that it would be the quickest and least expensive, and that in any case it would be a prerequisite for building a sea-level canal. Indorsed by the Governor of the Panama Canal, by the Secretary of War, and by the President, the project received Congressional approval on 11 August 1939; but funds to begin the work were not forthcoming until the following spring. Congress, seeing that at least six years would be required for the project, was not to be hurried, and there were those in the House of Representatives who believed that the $277,000,000 which the project would cost could be spent to better advantage for munitions and materiel. Finally on 30 May 1940 the House voted to accept a Senate amendment to the War Department Civil Functions Bill (approved 24 June 1940) which provided for an initial appropriation of $15,000,000 and authorized the letting of construction contracts to an amount not exceeding $99,000,000. Work was begun on 1 July 1940, when the dredge Cascades


started excavating at the Pacific end of the channel leading to the New Miraflores lock site. 42  

Construction and planning were placed in the hands of the Canal administration, not of the Army, although the War Department controlled the purse strings. The plans called for a series of single locks paralleling, but at some distance from, the existing double chambers. The new locks were to be two hundred feet longer and thirty feet wider than the old, in order to accommodate the 58,000-ton Montana-class battleships that the Navy placed on order in September 1940. This feature soon began to override the security consideration as the principal reason for the project.

The entry of the United States into the war brought into question the future of the third locks project; the Navy's interest in it gave it high priority. On 23 December 1941 the Governor of the Panama Canal reported by letter to the Secretary of War that the schedule, which called for completing the project by 30 June 1946, could be met only by assigning high priority to, and by vigorously prosecuting, the construction. Since the first of the new super-battleships was scheduled to be completed late in 1945, it would appear essential, continued the governor, that the locks program be completed as soon as possible. 43  Discussing the question at a War Council meeting on 5 January 1942, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Moore, Deputy Chief of Staff, took a somewhat different view. " The only necessity for this lock [sic]," the minutes read, "is to permit larger battleships, now under construction, to pass through the canal. General Moore felt that there was some question as to whether or not, with shipping and material so short at this time, the construction of this lock should have such a high priority." 44  Since the matter was of primary interest to the Navy, the War Department accepted the opinion of the Chief of Naval Operations, who recommended "that every effort be made" to complete the project "at the earliest date practicable, and not later than Jan 1, 1946." 45  The Army and Navy Munitions Board agreed to assign the priorities necessary for completing the work on the schedule the Navy desired, and the governor of the Canal was instructed to push con-


struction as rapidly as he could. 46  Four months later there was a radical change of plan.

As far as the defense of the canal was concerned, Lt. Gen. Frank M. Andrews, Commanding General, Caribbean Defense Command, considered the third locks project a hindrance rather than a help. "The greatest danger to the Canal today," he wrote in May 1942, "is an air raid which would damage the lake level gates to the extent that would result in the loss of water in Gatun Lake .... The construction of a third set of lake level locks would present to the enemy an additional means of accomplishing its objective and would consequently render the local defense problem more complex." 47  Therefore, when the Navy in the spring of 1942 indefinitely postponed the battleship construction program, which had become the principal reason for the additional locks, General Andrews recommended that the locks project be deferred also. Both the War Department and the Navy concurred in General Andrews' recommendation, and, having received the approval of the President, Secretary Stimson on 23 May 1942 directed the Governor of the Canal to modify the program drastically. Except for some of the dredging and excavating work that had already been started and the Miraflores bridge construction, all construction work was halted. During the following months, contracts were renegotiated and canceled, and a large amount of equipment and material was diverted to more immediate war needs. 48  

The labor demand created by the various construction projects considerably overtaxed the local supply and made it necessary to import workers from neighboring countries and from the West Indies. Surveys made during the winter 1939-40 disclosed that the local labor supply was "practically exhausted" and that about 12,000 workers would have to be recruited outside the Republic of Panama if the requirements anticipated for midsummer of 1940 were to be met. Nevertheless, the Panamanian Government was loath to permit a widespread importation of foreign laborers, except from Spain or Puerto Rico, neither of which was considered a suitable source by the Canal administration and Army authorities. Early in 1940 the Panamanian Government agreed to the entry of one shipload of workers from Jamaica, where a labor recruiting office had been opened in February. President


Roosevelt, who had been anxious to have the wishes of the Panamanian Government carefully followed, gave his approval on 19 April to the importation of 600 Jamaicans to meet immediate requirements. At the same time he instructed the War Department that future importations should be made in accordance with the racial requirements desired by the Panamanian Government and that an attempt be made to fill needs by recruiting workers in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. By 30 June 1940 about 150 Jamaican workers had been brought into the Canal Zone. During the next twelve months employment recruiting offices were opened in Costa Rica and Colombia and from these sources, as well as Jamaica, 4,278 workmen were recruited. The peak was reached during the spring of 1942. On 30 June 1942 the Governor of the Canal reported that in the preceding twelve months 11,331 workmen had been brought into the Canal Zone, half of them from El Salvador. 49  By this time, in June 1942, the total of unskilled and semiskilled workmen, the so-called "Silver" employees, numbered 65,786. Although the workmen recruited on contract in neighboring countries were thus only a small percentage of the total employed, without them the labor situation would have been most critical. As it was, labor always had to be carefully allocated and some projects, the transisthmian highway for example, occasionally felt the pinch. 50  

The Puerto Rican Outpost, 1939-1940

The aviation developments of the 1930's that produced the long-range bomber and which were primarily responsible for the new theories of defense in Panama were the principal factor in the establishment of a major Army base in Puerto Rico. First developed as an independent outpost of the Panama defenses, Puerto Rico became one of the strongpoints around the Caribbean perimeter. Prior to 1939 the Navy, whose job it was to guard the gaps in the Antilles screen, had only the base at Guantanamo Bay, a radio station at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a small Marine Corps airfield on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. During 1938 the Army began to show glimmers of interest in Puerto Rico. The commanding general of the Second Corps Area, to which the island was attached for administrative purposes,


proposed in July 1938 that a Puerto Rican defense force be organized: "Keeping the enemy out of Caribbean waters is essentially a Navy problem," he wrote, "but, if need be, the Army can lend substantial support to the Navy through the use of aircraft based on Puerto Rico, when and if more important missions do not demand their use elsewhere at the time. A logical solution of the problem," he continued, "is this: construct a suitable air base and landing fields in Puerto Rico, but keep the Air Corps garrison to the minimum required for maintenance; . . ." 51  As part of the evolution of hemisphere defense in October and November 1938 the Joint Planning Committee undertook a study of this and similar proposals, which by the following February had progressed to the point where the War Plans Division thought an independent headquarters in Puerto Rico was necessary. It recommended, therefore, that Puerto Rico be taken out of the jurisdiction of the Second Corps Area and be made a separate overseas department and that a general officer with a small staff be assigned to command the department and to develop a defense project and plan. The Chief of Staff approved the recommendation of the War Plans Division on 10 February 1939. 52  At this time the only troops on the island were two battalions of the 65th Infantry, a local Puerto Rican unit.

During the first half of 1939, five different surveys were made of possible airfield sites. Point Borinquen, at the extreme northwest corner of the island, was the choice of three of the survey parties and was approved by the Chief of Staff, General Malin Craig, on 22 June. Two other possible sites, recommended by a party headed by General Marshall, then Deputy Chief of Staff, were considered and rejected principally on engineering grounds. 53  At the same time General Craig forwarded the joint Board's recommendations to the Secretary of War for his approval. These recommendations, fruit of the joint planning studies made during the spring, defined Puerto Rico's role as that of an outlying base for supporting the naval forces whose task it was to control the Caribbean Sea. The Army mission recommended by the joint Board was as follows:

To hold Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands against attacks by land, sea and air forces, and against hostile sympathizers; to install and operate required Army base facilities; to support the naval forces in controlling the Caribbean Sea and adjacent waters; and to support operations against shore objectives. 54  


The principal policy recommendation of the board, namely, that a separate local command be established over the Puerto Rico-Virgin Islands area, had been adopted by the War Department on 5 May, when the Puerto Rican Department was established effective 1 July 1939. 55  Brig. Gen. Edmund L. Daley was appointed commanding general with headquarters at San Juan. Although there had been some talk at one time of placing Puerto Rico under the Panama Canal Department, this idea had long since gone by the board and the chain of command was run direct from the Chief of Staff.

In mid-August General Daley and his Staff were working on the preparations that were preliminary to drawing up the defense project and the coastal frontier and operations plans. A thorough reconnaissance of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had been made. An acquaintance with all the military forces that might become available -the 65th Infantry, the National Guard, and Reserve groups- had been forged. Counterespionage measures had been organized, and a revision of the internal security plan was undertaken. 56  In the course of planning, General Marshall raised the question whether the National Guard and Regular Army units could not be mixed. His idea was to use Regular Army troops for the headquarters of the company or battalion and National Guardsmen for the rest of the unit. The chief of the War Plans Division thought this was more of a mixture than was necessary but that it might be possible to use National Guard battalions to fill out Regular Army regiments. Then the ramification whether to use Puerto Rican soldiers in the same unit with continental Americans developed. 57  Before any policy on this question was established and while the defenses were still being plotted, the European crisis made emergency measures necessary.

The War Department decided to send immediate reinforcements to Puerto Rico. Toward the end of August General Daley was notified that if war broke out in Europe he would be sent one antiaircraft battalion, one coast artillery battalion (155-mm. gun), and a company of engineers, totaling about 1,050 officers and men. As the fighting in Europe developed, the strength of the proposed reinforcement was increased. On 3 September a battalion of field artillery was added to the list, and a few days later an additional antiaircraft battery and service units were added. This brought the


promised reinforcements to more than 1,500 officers and men. 58  The first arrivals, Battery D of the 69th Coast Artillery (AA), landed at San Juan on 25 September. By the end of October all the troops except the company of engineers had arrived. Their arrival late in November brought the total strength of the Puerto Rico garrison, including the 65th Infantry, to just under 3,000 officers and men.

Highest priority had been given by the War Department to the preparation of an emergency airfield suitable for B-17 operations. On 6 September, Puerto Rico Air Base No. 1 was established in a cow pasture near Point Borinquen. Work on a temporary landing strip was immediately started.59  In November, the 28 officers and 228 enlisted men of the 27th Reconnaissance Squadron arrived at the air base, and as soon as the runway was completed the planes of the squadron -nine B-18 bombers- were flown in. This was on 5 December 1939. 60  With the arrival of the planes the emergency measures were completed, and the Puerto Rican Department could look forward to a more orderly development.

These first steps had been directed primarily toward eliminating the source of weakness to the Panama Canal defenses that the Antilles seemed to present, namely, the danger that an enemy might take possession of one of the islands and use it as a base from which to launch an attack on the Canal, the continental United States, or the sea lanes. For this reason, to deny Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to the enemy was, according to the War Plans Division, "of paramount importance." On the other hand, the Antilles were also a source of strength. In the first place, they limited the sea approaches of the Canal to a few narrow passages, "thereby simplifying the problem of the location and attack of hostile vessels," and in the second place, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands afforded potential bases from which long-range air operations could be conducted either to exert control over the Caribbean Sea, in support of the fleet, or to provide air protection to the land areas bordering the Caribbean, in direct defense of the Canal. 61  But it was not until well into 1940 that the concept of a Caribbean theater


even began to take shape. The limits of the Puerto Rican Department had been officially defined as "the Island of Puerto Rico, including all keys and islands adjacent thereto, and all islands belonging to the United States within the Virgin island group." 62  The Joint Board, however, in its recommendations earlier in 1939 had delineated a somewhat larger area of responsibility -a rectangle bounded north and south by the 17th and 20th parallels, on the east by a line just off Cape Engaņo, the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, and on the west by the 63d meridian. This was probably the broadest expanse within which the defenses established in Puerto Rico in 1939 could be used effectively. Nevertheless, by ensuring against the establishment of an enemy foothold in this area, the defenses of Puerto Rico were indirectly a protection to the Panama Canal.

During the first six months of 1940 the build-up in Puerto Rico proceeded at a somewhat slower pace than that in Panama. In this period the Puerto Rico garrison grew from 2,980 to 3,281 officers and men, an increase of 10 percent, while the garrison in Panama rose from about 19,400 to 22,375, an increase of about 15 percent. 63  The explanation was undoubtedly in the fact that when plans for building up the Puerto Rican defenses were put in motion in the preceding year the process had to be started from scratch, and it was a process that always gathered momentum very slowly. In the second place, the War Department was deliberately keeping the air garrison at a low level primarily because of the rapidity with which it believed reinforcements could be sent from the United States. General Arnold cited this same policy in disapproving a request from the Panama Canal Department for additional transport and reconnaissance planes. "The principle that all aircraft necessary for the defense of the Panama Canal must be available in the immediate area of the Canal Zone at all times," he wrote ". . . is in direct opposition to the approved Air Board Report, which adheres to the principle that the aviation complement of overseas garrisons should be held to the minimum required before reinforcement by air can arrive . . . ." General Arnold then continued, "from a realistic viewpoint it seems inconceivable that an air attack on the Panama Canal of such proportions as to be beyond defensive capabilities of the normal garrison could be launched without the forty-eight hours warning required to permit reinforcement by air." 64  


The Alert of June 1940

Then the war in Europe erupted into a blitzkrieg. Turning against the neighboring neutrals, the German armies outflanked the major French and British defenses. By mid-June practically all of western Europe was in the clutches of Hitler. On 17 June General Marshall ordered the Panama Canal Department, the Hawaiian Department, and the west coast to alert themselves against a surprise attack. 65  The directive sent to General Van Voorhis required him to take "every possible precaution" against any sort of action, "naval, air or sabotage," aimed at putting the Canal out of commission and it specified that the "air component and antiaircraft forces must be in state of preparedness for action at any hour." 66 General Herron deployed his entire antiaircraft and security forces into defensive positions, with live ammunition, and made arrangements with the local naval commander for a complete air patrol, which the Navy immediately put into operation. But neither the official histories of the Panama Canal Department nor the more likely files of the War Department reveal specifically what measures General Van Voorhis took in Panama.

Looking backward and in the glare of the Pearl Harbor attack a number of points seem to stand out conspicuously: First, the alert in Panama dwindled off into controversy on the subject of "unity of command"; second, there was no standard measure, no precise definition, of what constituted an alert or the synonymous phrase "preparedness for action"; and third, a follow-up message from General Marshall, which mentioned only the "possibility of attempt at sabotage," by this less inclusive phraseology could have limited the scope of the War Plans Division's original directive without intending to do so. Since it is easier to look back than to see ahead in time, only the first of these -the command issue- was recognized as a matter that required attention. 67

Not long after the alert of June 1940 the whole complexion of the Canal's defenses changed as a result of Britain's offer of base sites in Bermuda, Newfoundland, and the West Indies. With the acquisition of bases in Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia, Trinidad, and British Guiana, the possibility of making the Caribbean a mare clausum presented itself.


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