Planning the Iceland Operation


During the first year and a half of World War II the interest and attention of the War Department had for the most part been focused in the direction of South America. But the pull on American resources, on staff planning, and on actual operations exerted by the exigencies of hemisphere defense was neither uniform in strength nor constant -in direction. It swung through an arc extending northward from the bulge of Brazil, past the Azores, and beyond Newfoundland to Iceland. Nevertheless the true pole of attraction was to the south. The establishing of American bases in Newfoundland, the sending of American troops to Greenland, and an American garrison to Iceland did not result from a major shift in policy. In each case the desirability of the measure was determined by its own circumstances, which were sometimes peripheral even to hemisphere defense as a whole although the feasibility of each step was appraised in the light of what was being done elsewhere at the same time. This was particularly true of the Iceland operation.1

Early in the European conflict both the British and the Germans had recognized what the Vikings had demonstrated ten centuries before, namely, that Iceland was an important steppingstone between Europe and the New World. Hitler several times toyed with the idea of a descent upon the island and laid preliminary plans for it; but to forestall such a move British troops, soon joined by a Canadian force, had landed in Iceland on 10 May 1940. Icelandic annoyance with the British and Canadian garrison, and British losses in the war, which made a withdrawal of the Iceland garrison seem desirable, plus American concern for the Atlantic sea lanes, combined to bring Iceland within the American defense orbit.

By the early spring of 1941 the British position in the Mediterranean had become extremely precarious. Weakened by the withdrawal of some 50,000 troops to Greece and surprised by greatly reinforced German and Italian forces, Britain's Army of the Nile had been driven back, with serious


losses, across the African deserts to the Egyptian border. Disaster in Greece, following hard upon the rout in North Africa, added 11,000 dead and missing to the casualties of the African campaign. The British therefore felt a pressing need for the 20,000 or so troops tied down in Iceland. Meanwhile the Battle of the Atlantic had taken a critical turn when, in March, German U-boats moved westward into the unprotected gap between the Canadian and British escort areas. Shipping losses mounted steeply. Although the Royal Navy immediately established a patrol and escort staging base in Iceland, a dangerous gap in the ocean defenses still remained.

American concern in the protection of the North Atlantic sea lanes, and in the defense of Iceland as well, had been acknowledged in the recently concluded Anglo-American staff conversations. Although Britain, in its own interest and on its own initiative, had already committed itself to both tasks, they were recognized as matters of mutual responsibility in the final staff report, the so-called ABC-1 agreement. Britain, it was decided, would provide a garrison for Iceland as long as the United States remained a nonbelligerent; should the United States be forced into the war against the Axis Powers, American troops would then relieve the British garrison.2 By admitting and accepting this measure of responsibility, however conditional it was, the United States laid itself open to an appeal for assistance whenever Britain should find the defense of Iceland too burdensome. If the United States, instead of awaiting formal entry into the war, were to undertake immediately the responsibility it had accepted for relieving the British troops in Iceland, then British losses in North Africa and Greece could be to some extent replaced without undue strain on British manpower.

Iceland, no less than Britain, was anxious to have the British garrison depart. Intensely nationalistic, proud of their ancient civilization, the Icelanders chafed under the "protective custody" in which they found themselves placed. They felt at first, when Canadian troops made up a large part of the total force, that a wholly British contingent would be preferable, but when the Canadians were later replaced by British troops most Icelanders seemed to find their lot no more bearable than before. As the scope of Germany's aerial blitzkrieg widened, the people of Iceland grew more uneasy; for it to be "defended" by one of the belligerent powers, they felt, was an open invitation to attack by the other. The Icelandic Government shared the apprehensions of the people and found further annoyance in Britain's control of Iceland's export trade.


The Shifting Focus of American Interest

Taking a pessimistic view of England's chances of survival the Icelandic Government had, as early as mid-July of 1940, approached the Department of State concerning the possibility of Iceland's coming under the aegis of the Monroe Doctrine. Although the impetus for this idea came from concerns of the moment, a sense of affinity with the North American continent had long been part of Icelandic tradition. In September and December the question was again raised, and on one of these occasions the Icelandic consul general suggested the possibility of his country granting the United States air and naval bases in return for economic and commercial advantages.3 In Iceland it was apparently expected that a simple declaration by the United States to the effect that Iceland lay within the Western Hemisphere, and therefore within range of the Monroe Doctrine, would make the presence of foreign troops unnecessary. If a garrison was required, it was thought that American troops, being those of a nonbelligerent power, would not draw German attacks. And once Iceland was accepted as part of the "Monroe Doctrine Area" it was hoped that a favorable trade agreement could be arranged with the United States.4

Toward all these informal, exploratory inquiries the United States Government adopted a noncommittal attitude. Unwilling to make a definite decision until circumstances required it, the Department of State pointed to the necessity of not tying its hands with prior commitments. The War Department was in full accord with the view of the Department of State. When staff conversations with the British concerning America's future course got under way, early in 1941, both the War Plans Division and G-2 recommended that no action be taken at that time relative to any possible request by Iceland for American protection.5 Accordingly, on 11 February Secretary Stimson informed the Secretary of State that the War Department shared the latter's views that the United States should "neither discourage nor encourage an approach to this Government by the Government of Iceland." 6


Then came the British reverses in the Mediterranean and increasing German success in the North Atlantic.

After the conclusion of the ABC Conversations in March, Washington's interest in Iceland had quickened as an outgrowth of the problem of placing American planes and supplies in the hands of the British and as part of the task of making the United States Navy's "neutrality patrol" more effective. On 10 April, while picking up survivors from a Dutch vessel torpedoed off the coast of Iceland, the American destroyer Niblach, which earlier in the month had been given the job of reconnoitering the waters about the island, went into action against a U-boat whose approach was taken as an intention to attack. This was the first of a number of "incidents" that were to take place in the waters south of Iceland, where from this time on the safety zone of the Western Hemisphere and Germany's blockade area overlapped. On the very same day President Roosevelt decided to extend the neutrality patrol. At the end of a long conference with his chief military and naval advisers, the President took out a map and drew a line, roughly down the middle of the Atlantic, a few days later fixing it at the 26th meridian, but including the waters adjacent to the whole of Greenland and around the Azores. Also on 10 April, Mr. Harry Hopkins, the Presidential adviser on lend-lease matters, and his legal aide, Mr. Oscar S. Cox, were considering the possibility of the U.S. Navy escorting convoys within the Western Hemisphere, a step which the President was not yet prepared to take, and the feasibility of transshipping goods to Britain from ports within some defined boundary of the Western Hemisphere. This led to the further thought, expressed in a memorandum from Cox to Hopkins on 12 April, that public vessels of the United States could be used to transport men and materials to the American bases recently acquired in the Atlantic and that, in fact, nothing in the Neutrality Act of 1939 prohibited public vessels from going anywhere with anything.7 Then on 13 April President Roosevelt received assurances from Prime Minister Churchill that Britain was determined to fight through to a decision in North Africa. American goods and munitions would perhaps be the deciding factor in the campaign. On the following day, Mr. Hopkins and Under Secretary of State 'belles met with the Icelandic consul general and reopened the question of American protection for Iceland.8

At the end of the month, the War Plans Division recommended that an


Army survey party be sent to Iceland for the specific purpose of preparing detailed plans for its defense. Merely calling attention to the plans for Iceland under the ABC-1 Agreement, the War Plans Division gave no sign of anticipating that the Army would soon be called upon to relieve the British garrison. No great haste was made in organizing the party. Although the Chief of Staff gave his approval on 2 May, it was not until some ten days later that messages went out requesting the commanding officers of the units provisionally assigned to a move into Iceland, of which the 5th Division was one, to designate officers for the survey party.9  The possibility of a German move into Spain and Portugal, which shifted attention away from the North Atlantic, and changes in the prospective assignments of two of the units designated for use in Iceland, along with a shortage and rapid turnover of officers, all contributed to a further delay.

During the early days of May, Nazi propaganda drums, in characteristic preinvasion fashion, had begun beating out a crescendo of anti-Portuguese accusations. Every omen seemed to point to Spain and Portugal as the next victims of German aggression.10  Deeply anxious, the Portuguese Government prepared to move to the Azores, of which some of the largest and most important islands lay within the bounds of the American neutrality patrol. And by one of the facts of geography, the sea and air routes from Europe to South America and the Panama Canal could be controlled from the Azores. The concern of the United States can be roughly measured by the high priority assigned to the preparation of a strategic survey of those islands. In a list of seventeen areas, arranged in order of urgency, which the War Plans Division submitted to G-2 on 7 May, the Azores were given second place. Top priority was assigned to the region around Dakar, in French West Africa, whereas Iceland, in sixteenth place, was far down the list.11 That a declaration of war by Germany would follow the landing of American troops on either the Azores or Iceland was regarded by War Department planners as almost certain; but sending troops to the Azores was considered to be more easily justified as a measure in defense of the Western Hemisphere than a move into Iceland.12


As the month of May passed, German designs became more obscure, and American apprehension shifted from one danger spot to another. The French West Indies had been considered a potential threat ever since the fall of France, and at the first sign of skullduggery on the part of Admiral Robert, Vichy High Commissioner at Martinique, American plans contemplated an immediate landing of marines supported by the 1st Infantry Division. Meanwhile, a modus vivendi that had been presented to Admiral Robert in 1940 seemed to be successfully keeping him in line. Nevertheless, alarming reports of a West Indies crisis appeared in American newspapers on Sunday, 18 May, and the spotlight briefly pointed at Martinique. Then it swung away. Although estimates of Hitler's intentions toward Spain and Portugal were conflicting and although the actual moves the Germans made were hard to interpret, the Azores again assumed importance. On 22 May President Roosevelt directed the Army and Navy to be ready within thirty days to forestall a German attack on the Azores by getting there first.13 The naval balance in the Atlantic, which an Azores landing might easily swing in Britain's favor, was thrown into uncertainty just at this time by the daring foray of the powerful German battleship Bismarck and her consort Prinz Eugen. On the same day that President Roosevelt ordered the Azores preparations started, Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were slipping past the British Home Fleet into the North Atlantic. Two days later, after a sharp five-minute engagement the two ships sank the British battle cruiser Hood, severely damaged the newly commissioned Prince of Wales, and then disappeared into the fog and mist of the Denmark Strait. The threat to the Azores, indeed to the entire Atlantic area, lasted until British air and naval units ran down and sank Bismarck off the coast of France on 27 May and forced Prinz Eugen into refuge in Brest.

While the chase after Bismarck was on, the target of German intentions gradually became more discernible. In the early morning of 20 May a swarm of German paratroopers descended on the island of Crete. The British garrison, without adequate air protection and naval support, was unable to beat off the invaders, and ten days later Crete fell victim to the German war machine. In defense of the island some 13,000 British and other Commonwealth troops and ten ships of the Royal Navy were lost.14  The


ensuing possibilities were ominous. Using Crete as a springboard, the Germans might jump either southward to meet up with Rommel's North African army in Egypt, or eastward into Vichy-controlled Syria, thence through riot-torn Iraq and north to the Caucasus. A move in the latter direction would be in keeping with Prime Minister Churchill's strong conviction and reports received by the Department of State to the same effect: that German armies were poised in central Europe for an imminent attack on Russia. Everything pointed to a spread of war to the eastward.

The situation in the Mediterranean lent an element of compulsion to the withdrawal of the British garrison in Iceland. The reduction of German naval strength in the Atlantic had somewhat eased the threat to the Azores, and to the Cape Verde and Canary Islands, to the extent that Britain felt capable of undertaking their defense without, at this time, any American assistance. And finally a German involvement with Russia would make less likely a declaration of war on the United States in the event of an American move into Iceland. The Azores soon lost the precedence assigned to them only a week or so before.

Meanwhile, the War Department had already taken steps to facilitate putting into effect one of the American commitments under the ABC-1 Agreement. On 18 May, General Chaney arrived in London as head of the military mission which, should the United States enter the war, was to be the command headquarters of United States Army Forces in the British Isles, but which, for the time being, went by the more euphemistic designation of Special Observer Group (SPOBS), London. Iceland was envisaged as a prospective theater of operations geographically within the sphere of the Special Observer Group. When General Chaney's instructions were being drafted and the composition of his group was being decided upon, in early April, the indications had been that American forces would not be sent to England or Iceland before the following September at the very earliest.15 On this account, and no doubt to maintain as much of the fiction of neutrality as possible, General Chaney was given no specific instructions concerning Iceland or any other field of proposed Anglo-American co-operation. He was merely directed to establish the channels by which that co-operation could at some future time be carried out and to govern himself in accordance with those paragraphs of the staff agreement that provided for the exchange of missions and defined in general terms their purpose.16 The Special Observer


Group had scarcely begun to take soundings in those channels when the decision to dispatch troops to Iceland was taken.

The President's Decision and the Wear Department's Response

The decision was made by the President between 3 and 6 June, with the vigorous and enthusiastic backing of Secretaries Stimson and Knox and, according to Stimson, the indorsement of the Chief of Staff. General Gerow, head of the War Plans Division, and some of his subordinates, were opposed to it.17

Preparations for sending an Army survey party, which had been dormant since early May, were hastily resumed. Lt. Col. Kirby Green of the 5th Division and three other officers chosen for this purpose were ordered to Washington on 3 June; but, since it was apparent that they would not be able to leave for Iceland until the end of the month, the War Plans Division requested General Chaney to send out a survey party from London and then to advise the War Department how the relief of the British garrison should be carried out. He was asked to advise what American troops would be required, what quantities of ammunition and supplies should be sent, and how much would be turned over to the American forces by the departing British.18 Discussions between General Chaney's staff and British officers had begun on 4 June on such matters as housing the American troops, the antiaircraft defense of Iceland, and the necessary fighter plane strength; and it was decided that a joint Admiralty, Air, and War Ministry committee would collaborate with the Special Observer Group in planning the relief of the British forces.19 Apparently the stage was set for General Chaney to play a prominent role in the formulation of plans for the Iceland movement.

The War Department began its preliminary planning at once. Since only a meager body of firsthand data was available, the point of departure had to be the decision itself (that American troops would immediately and completely relieve the British garrison) and from that point planning had to proceed on the basis of the two known factors: that approximately 30,000 troops would be required, and that either the 1st or 5th Division would provide the nucleus of the force.


In the absence of other data the chief consideration governing the strength and composition of the proposed Iceland garrison was that it must be comparable to the British units for the relief of which the American force was intended. The report of the reconnaissance made by USS Niblack, a copy of which had been forwarded to the War Department on 7 May, placed British ground strength in Iceland at about 25,000 men, although this, it appeared later, was an overestimate. The Royal Air Force was reported to have about 500 men, with five Sunderland flying boats and six Lockheed Hudson bombers, for antisubmarine patrol, and about a dozen Fairey-Battle seaplanes and two Moth fighters.20  The British deficiency in fighter plane strength, which the War Department soon afterward pointed out and London readily conceded, was a matter of concern from the very beginning, and the earliest War Department calculations included somewhat heavier air strength than the British garrison enjoyed. Given the size and nature of the British garrison, the War Department went ahead with plans for a relief force that would consist of one infantry division reinforced with two antiaircraft regiments, a harbor defense regiment, an engineer regiment, and the usual services. The combat aviation planned for the American force would consist of one bombardment and one headquarters squadron, totaling eighteen medium bombers, and one pursuit squadron of twenty-five planes. The troop strength of the entire force totaled 28,964.21

Since the 5th Division was scheduled to be ready for field service by midsummer, it had been provisionally assigned to the Iceland operation as long as that operation belonged to the fairly remote and indefinite future. Although the division would not be completely prepared for combat, no armed opposition to the initial landings in Iceland was expected.22  The decision to make an immediate move required, however, that an immediately available unit be substituted. As a result, in the preliminary planning and the discussions that took place during this first week in June, the 1st Division was scheduled for the job in lieu of the 5th. The shift of units apparently was made with some misgivings, for theist Division was the best equipped infantry division in the Army, the only one that approached a state of readiness for combat involving landings on a hostile shore.23  To tie the division down in Iceland


would make impossible the fulfillment of the missions assigned to it by current war plans and thus give a cast of unreality to those plans.

Problems, Remote and Immediate

Two of the problems that later on were to harass the War Department planners remained in the background for the time being. Legislative restrictions on the use of selectees, of members of the Reserve, and of the National Guard did not, in these early stages of planning, seem to jeopardize the Iceland operation. And that there would be adequate shipping also seemed fairly certain.

The question of shipping, in late May and early June 1941, appears to have been not primarily whether vessels were available, but rather where they should be employed. The problem was one of allocation, which in turn depended upon decisions of strategy that were as yet unmade, on future requirements that could seldom be calculated with accuracy, on the Maritime Commission's co-operation which, as the War Department saw it, was not always assured, and upon the fullest use of commercial shipping and voyage charters, which the Army at this time was extremely reluctant to employ. The situation, as it concerned troop transports, was complicated just at this time by the transfer of six or seven of the Army's largest vessels to the Navy for operation and control. Although the immediate effect was something of a dislocation, since the Navy laid up several of the ships for conversion into attack transports, the net result was a gain to the combined transport fleets because the Maritime Commission at once turned over to the Army six fair-sized passenger liners to replace the tonnage that had been transferred to the Navy.24

As soon as the decision to relieve the British Iceland garrison had been taken, the head of the Transportation Section of G-4, Col. Charles P. Gross, discussed the matter of transportation with a representative of the Navy. The problem, simply stated, was to place in Iceland, as soon as possible, nearly 30,000 men with 231,554 ship tons of equipment, weapons, and supplies, and to provide thereafter some 25,000 tons of shipping each month for maintenance.25  The Navy Department gave assurances, however, that on five days'


notice three naval transports with a total capacity of 4,000 men could be provided for the Iceland movement; that on 20 June or thereabout four Army transports being converted by the Navy and with a capacity of about 6,000 men could be made available; and that by 28 June transportation for the entire Iceland force could be provided. In forwarding this information to the Chief of Staff on 5 June, the War Plans Division pointed out that to provide transportation for the entire Iceland force would nevertheless require the "use of all Marine transports" and would "immobilize the Marine Force for the time being." 26

At the same time, the War Plans Division raised inquiry concerning the effect of the legal restrictions that prohibited the National Guard, members of the Reserve, and men drafted under the Selective Service Act from serving outside the Western Hemisphere and that limited their terms of military service to a period of twelve months. For purposes of naval defense, the President had placed the Atlantic frontier of the western world, quite arbitrarily, along the meridian 26° west, which, to be sure, excluded the whole of Iceland.27 The question was one of policy, not geography; and if policy for the moment dictated a course of exclusion, circumstances at any future time might well prescribe a change in policy. Whatever concern was felt during these first days in June seems to have arisen over the time limit rather than the controversial geographical restriction. On this basis it was entirely rational for the Office of the Chief of Coast Artillery to observe that selectees would have to be used in constituting the harbor defense regiment proposed as part of the Iceland garrison.28 In any event the problems posed by the legal restrictions did not seem insuperable as long as the 1st Division was being considered for the nucleus of the force. Although 75 percent of the officers of that division had been drawn from the Reserve, it was presumed that most of them would volunteer for duty in Iceland. The problem, in this respect, was considered to be one of maintaining secrecy. As for enlisted men, only a "small percentage" of them were selectees, and only about 10 percent of the men of the two antiaircraft regiments-the 61st and 68th- were subject to the restrictions written into the Selective Service and National Defense Acts.29


Harbor conditions and the lack of facilities at Reykjavik were recognized as the real limitation. Although Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, was the largest town and chief port, its harbor was shallow, subject to occasional hurricanes, and had a fairly wide range of tide. Both G-2 and Naval Intelligence reported a depth of only sixteen feet alongside the piers at low water, whereas the available ships drew from twenty-five to thirty feet. As a consequence, all troops and cargo would have to be lightered ashore and the rate of discharge would therefore be slow.30 For this reason the Navy recommended that the movement be handled in four convoys sailing at intervals of about three weeks beginning 15 June. Each convoy would consist of four troopships and four cargo vessels carrying approximately 7,000 men and 60,000 tons of cargo. Each would make the trip to Iceland in about ten days and require fifteen days for discharge. Since the vessels that made up the first two convoys could thus repeat their voyages, only sixteen ships would be needed, the Navy optimistically reported. With the departure of the last convoy from Iceland, about 10 September, the entire operation would be completed. On 5 June the War Plans Division submitted the Navy's neatly drawn blueprint to the Chief of Staff. The outstanding points, the War Plans Division noted, were: that the Iceland and Azores operations could not be carried out simultaneously because of the shipping situation; that the Iceland movement should be conducted in stages because of meager housing and harbor facilities; and that it would be impossible to conduct the operation in secrecy.31 But before further action could be taken, the course of affairs had taken a new turn as the result of Stimson's conference with the President that same day, 5 June.

In discussing with Secretary Stimson the effect the Iceland movement would have on the use of expeditionary forces for all other purposes under the basic war plans, the President expressed his opinion that a unit of marines would have to go in the first contingent to Iceland. Although this solution was not thoroughly to the liking of the Chief of Staff, he recognized that it would permit substituting the 5th Division for the more indispensable 1st Division as the basic component of the force and that thus the latter division would once more be available for the role originally assigned to it in the war plans. Accordingly, on 7 June, General Marshall informed War Plans Division that the Iceland preparations should be based upon using the 5th Division with a Marine Corps unit for the first wave of the force.32  The 6th Regiment


of marines, which had been ordered east from San Diego when the Azores operation was still in the air late in May, was at this moment en route to the east coast by way of the Panama Canal. It was now, with appropriate reinforcement, designated the 1st Marine Brigade (Provisional) and on 12 June, while the regiment was still at sea, orders were drafted for the newly created brigade to depart for Iceland ten days later under the command of Brig. Gen. John Marston, USMC.33

Simultaneously, the War Department took the initial steps required by the shift of units. Personnel of the 5th Division were "frozen" in their assignments. The commander of the division, Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Cummins, was ordered to Washington to participate in the planning. The respective divisions of the General Staff were asked to prepare embarkation plans, to make ready special clothing and equipment, and to investigate and plan the necessary housing. The required change in the convoy schedule previously recommended by the Navy was sketched out. The new timetable, submitted to the War Department on 16 June, tentatively provided for three convoys sailing at ten-day intervals, beginning 20 August, each carrying 8,500 men.34

The shift of units brought forward the problem of personnel. In contrast to the 1st Division, as many as 41 percent of the enlisted men of the 5th Division were selectees and from 75 to 88 percent of the officers were members of the Reserve. Earlier, when the 5th Division had been provisionally designated for a possible Iceland expedition under the ABC-1 Agreement, General Marshall had pointed out that volunteers and Regular Army personnel could be substituted for the selectees while the division was awaiting its ocean transportation.35 Now G-1 estimated that, by shifting troops within the division, one infantry regiment and one field artillery battalion could be prepared for movement within a week after orders were issued; or by transferring men from at least three other divisions, the entire 5th Division could be made ready within three weeks. The War Plans Division favored the second course of action on the ground that the alternative would lower the combat efficiency of those units of the division from which the three-year


enlisted men were drawn. The preparation of detailed plans for shifting personnel was assigned to G-1 and G-3 on 12 June, but the execution of the plans was to be deferred until specifically ordered.36

By mid-June at least seven different offices and agencies were to one extent or another involved in planning for the Iceland expedition, and very shortly GHQ would enter the picture. In London, General Chaney's Special Observer Group was working out a program premised upon the relief of the British as the principal object and designed primarily to provide a satisfactory timetable. In the War Department, G-1 and G-3 were preparing the plans through which suitable, adequately trained personnel would be available. G-4 was engaged in planning the embarkation and transportation of the troops and in preparing plans for housing and equipping them. The War Plans Division had the task of working out such details as command and interservice relations and of drawing together the various plans into a comprehensive whole that would conform to broader strategy. Furthermore, the Navy was involved in the formulation of Army plans so far as they concerned convoys and shipping. Finally, the Joint Board of the Army and Navy, through its joint Planning Committee, was responsible for the basic Army and Navy directive, which would be the definitive joint plan for the operation.

INDIGO Planning, First Phase 37

By mid-June, American reconnaissance parties were descending upon Iceland in a flurry of activity. First to appear was Lt. William C. Asserson, USN, officer in charge of the Navy's Greenland survey. His report on possible patrol plane bases in Iceland did not reach the War Department until the end of the month, and by then the Army's plans had already been laid, changed, and superseded. The survey party sent out from London by General Chaney was next to arrive and spent nearly a week gathering data on housing and living conditions, on air, coast, and harbor defenses, the state of airdromes, mine fields, docking facilities, communications, and the like. On 12 June, the days after the SPOBS survey party arrived from London, two Army officers and a Marine Corps survey party arrived from the United States. The Army officers were Lt. Col. Geoffrey M. O'Connell, who had been designated a member of the group organized on 3 June, and Capt. Richard R. Arnold. After spending a total of thirty hours in Iceland and conferring briefly with


Lieutenant Asserson in Argentia, Newfoundland, Colonel O'Connell and Captain Arnold returned to Washington and presented a nineteen-page report on their reconnaissance.38

Within three days after Colonel O'Connell and Captain Arnold returned, the War Department received two other reports on Iceland; one from General Chaney and a second from Maj. Gen. H. O. Curtis, general officer commanding the British forces in Iceland. Fearing the limitations that would affect the proposed operations were not properly understood, General Curtis had placed before the American survey parties his views on the various problems of command, housing, and transportation, which he then sent off as a long dispatch to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.39 In accordance with General Curtis' recommendation, the British Embassy forwarded a summary of his dispatch to the War Plans Division on the same day that Colonel O'Connell and Captain Arnold were submitting their report; and a few days later the full text was received by the War Department. General Chaney summarized his own recommendations in a lengthy cable to the War Department on 19 June; and On 24 June Lt. Col. George W. Griner, Jr., one of the members of the SPOBS survey party, arrived in Washington with General Chaney's complete plan.40

All three reports highlighted these aspects of the problem: first, the lack of harbor facilities at Reykjavik and the outports, which would impose limitations on shipping; second, the availability of housing, which was conditioned upon the British evacuating their Nissen huts; and third, the onset of winter gales and snow after late September, which established a deadline for the operation. Each report differed from the others in the relative weight assigned to these factors, in the thoroughness with which they were covered, and, in some cases, in the matter of factual detail as well. As a presentation of the basic data necessary for formulating any plan, the O'Connell-Arnold report reflected the haste in which the data had been gathered. All the thirty-five topics it dealt with were, with a few exceptions, treated in superficial, far from specific fashion.41


General Chaney's report was in the nature of counsel on matters of policy, on the decisions that were required, and the way they should be executed. The data on which he based his recommendations were included in nine annexes covering the various arms and services.42  Where General Curtis, in his dispatch, emphasized the shipping and cargo-handling difficulties that would be encountered, General Chaney, on the other hand, was inclined to stress the housing problem. In either case the conclusion was that the entire operation must be completed before the advent of winter weather late in September and that the utmost co-operation between British and Americans would be required.

The distinguishing feature of General Chaney's plan was its bilateral approach in providing a timetable not only for the movement of American troops to Iceland but for the withdrawal of the British garrison as well. Both moves and the relief of the marines were to be accomplished in five stages. The first four contingents of American troops were to consist of about 6,000 men each. The relief of the British was to begin as soon as the second convoy completed discharge and was to proceed successively following the arrival of each American convoy thereafter. When the last American contingent, of some 4,500, had landed, the marines would return to the United States and the last of the British units would depart for England. The entire movement would be completed by the end of September. So precise was the schedule as to demand what would have been in fact a united Anglo-American effort. General Chaney in his plan provided for such an effort. None of the others did so.

Shipping requirements and the housing problem seem to have been the rocks on which the Chaney plan foundered. On both subjects, General Chaney and the War Department disagreed in several particulars.

As for housing, General Chaney's plan was to make use of the Nissen huts vacated by the British units scheduled for relief. The total number of men who could thus be housed would come to about 22,000, but the British, he reported, would deliver enough material for huts to accommodate the remainder of the American forces. The inevitable overlapping period between the arrival of troops from America and the departure of corresponding British units for England would, according to General Chaney, present the gravest problem. During this period either the British or Americans would have to live in tents. He therefore regarded it as absolutely essential that the first American Army contingent arrive in Iceland by 1 August. When he informed


the War Department that the British would deliver the material for all additional huts necessary, General Chaney had neglected to say how many this would be. War Plans Division, clearly skeptical, requested immediate confirmation that the British could furnish the 3,128 huts that War Department figures indicated would be required.43 General Chaney, it then transpired, had calculated that less than half this number would be necessary. Whereas the War Department estimated that accommodations for 10,000 additional men would be needed (including any British units remaining through the winter), General Chaney figured 7,000. The War Department estimate for hospital facilities and storage was three times as high as his. And finally, General Chaney took no account of space for headquarters, mess, kitchens, and day rooms, for which the War Department figured an additional 1,008 huts would be needed. What the British would provide was a total of 1,336 huts, General Chaney replied to War Plans Division, and, unable to make out how the War Department total of 3,128 had been reached, he referred the War Plans Division to Colonel Griner for complete details.44

Discrepant calculations in the matter of shipping requirements were the root of further confusion. On the subject of harbor conditions, General Chaney's observations controverted a number of assumptions from which War Department planning had proceeded. Whereas the War Department was basing its preparations on lightering troops and cargo ashore, on account of the low depth of water at the Reykjavik piers, General Chaney considered this impossible. There were no lighters at Reykjavik, he pointed out, no cargo cranes on the piers, and the availability of coastal shipping for lighterage purposes was questionable. It was feasible, he continued, to dock vessels with a maximum draft of twenty-one feet. He therefore based his calculations on berthing all the cargo vessels alongside the piers and discharging them by means of the ships' booms. According to his convoy schedule the operation would require a total of thirty-one ships, nearly twice the number that the Navy had been figuring upon using. They might have been found without too much difficulty had it not been that practically all the cargo transports under Army and Navy control were larger and deeper than those called for in the Chaney plan. And even if his shipping requirements had been com-


pletely met, the total cargo capacity of the thirty-one vessels, including repeated voyages and the use of troopships to their maximum capacity, would have been at least 43,000 tons short of the figure which two weeks earlier had been the basis of War and Navy Department shipping calculations. Anomaly was added to discrepancy when General Chaney recommended a level of supply somewhat higher than that used by the War Department to estimate the cargo requirements. Furthermore, General Chaney incorporated in his report a British request that, because of their own shipping shortage and to reduce port congestion in Iceland, certain American transports be made available for the movement back to England of British troops and equipment. This request the War Department absolutely and unconditionally rejected.45

Meanwhile, the War Plans Division had been working along the lines of the convoy schedule drawn up by the Navy on 16 June. But no sooner was the schedule set up than a modification seemed necessary. Convinced that a serious lack of housing and storage was in prospect, especially in the northern and eastern outports, the War Plans Division proposed that a construction party of 2,200 engineers precede the first regularly scheduled contingent in order to make certain that the necessary huts were in place by the end of September.46  This would add a fourth convoy to the schedule. Even more consequential was the change made in the level of reserve supplies. The War Department's early plans of 5 June had been based on an initial level of 60-day supply, to be raised and maintained at a 90-day level by the time the operation was completed. But on 21 June the Chief of  Staff approved a recommendation made by the War Plans Division on the same day that supply requirements (except ammunition) be increased to a 90-day level, to be raised to a 180-day level within the period scheduled for the troop movement. The effect was that cargo requirements were doubled. Instead of approximately 230,000 ship tons of cargo to be handled along with the troops, the figure now jumped to the neighborhood of 450,000 tons. By thus changing one of the basic conditions, the War Department made General Chaney's plan entirely impracticable; for if the limitation on the draft of vessels, insisted upon by General Chaney and the British, were to be observed, the Navy noted, a total of seventy-five cargo vessels would be necessary.47


Using troop and cargo figures furnished by the War Plans Division, the Navy Department now worked up a convoy schedule adapted to the War Department's new requirements. Four convoys, sailing 20 July, 25 August, 4 September, and 14 September, were scheduled. To transport the 29,000 or so troops and 445,200 ship tons of cargo there would be required a total of forty-one ships, including the three largest vessels in the American merchant marine. Only three cargo ships of less than twenty-one feet draft were provided, and these were intended for the northern and eastern outports. To mitigate unloading problems at Reykjavík, three steam lighters were to be taken along, under tow, in the first convoy. In submitting the schedule on 20 June, Capt. Oscar Smith of the Navy Department gave no assurance, however, that the required vessels would be available. The shipping situation, he pointed out, had become serious, and on this account it was essential, he continued, that requirements be reduced to the minimum 48

The general situation was further beclouded by growing uncertainty within the War Department. Despite the substitution of the 5th Division for the 1st Division, the War Plans Division continued to view with alarm the effect of the Iceland expedition upon the Army's readiness to put its basic war plans into execution. The selectee problem was emphasized at every opportunity. The cost of the construction program was stressed. And when the President began to express his fears that the proposed force was inadequate and intimated that it might be well for the British garrison to remain in addition to the American forces, General Gerow countered with the thought that the whole operation be called off, since it was dictated by political considerations rather than military necessity.49

G-4, the Logistics Division of the General Staff, took a similarly pessimistic view. The bottleneck, according to G-4, was not shipping but rather the inadequate wharf facilities at Reykjavík and Hvalfjördhur. And on this premise, Brig. Gen. Eugene E. Reybold, chief of the division, questioned the feasibility of all the proposals so far considered. It was evident, he asserted, that the efforts of the War Department would have to be pointed toward any one or all of the following: toward extending the relief movement beyond September in spite of the danger of stormy weather; toward cutting down the force by perhaps providing for a joint United States-British garrison; and toward reducing equipment and supplies to bare necessities.50 By recommending that the expedition be limited to a total of 200,000 ship tons of cargo, that


current planning be modified to conform to this limitation, and that even then the risk of partial failure be accepted, General Reybold helped to knock the Iceland plans into a cocked hat.

Meanwhile, the administrative change was taking shape by which some planning functions held by the War Plans Division were to be turned over to GHQ. GHQ was to have the task of drafting detailed theater plans for the operations assigned to it, while the War Plans Division would continue to draw up the strategic plans that defined and prescribed the operations. In anticipation of this step, General Malony, head of the planning section of the War Plans Division, had been transferred to GHQ on 15 June as deputy chief of staff in charge of plans and operations. His previous assignment had thrown him into the midst of the Iceland preparations, and although the formal directive authorizing the enlargement of GHQ's functions was not issued until 3 July, General Malony almost at once took up where he had left off in the War Department. He was presiding over a conference held in the War Plans Division on 24 June when Colonel Griner arrived from London with General Chaney's recommendations. Next day the two planning staffs, WPD and GHQ, met in an effort to fit General Chaney's plan into the mosaic being pieced together in the War Department, but the result, as the GHQ Diary records, was "pretty confused and obscure." 51

On the following Tuesday, 1 July, the Army-Navy Joint Planning Committee finally completed and submitted to the joint Board the basic directive for the Iceland operation. Given the short title INDIGO, it was intended to be the definitive joint plan to which all subsequent planning should conform.52 Unfortunately it emerged stillborn. The plan failed to survive a policy decision taken the very same day, a decision that was partly the culmination of the War Department's approach to the problem and partly the result of the President's fears that the proposed garrison was inadequate.

Heretofore the confusion and the vacillation and the irreconcilable plans had generally arisen over a question of method, of how to transport to Iceland by a definite date a specified number of men with a given amount of supplies and equipment. But the tendency to approach a solution by changing the terms of the proposition gradually developed, and the more pronounced this tendency became, the larger grew the area susceptible to dispute and revision.


Shuffling the supply requirements had necessitated several changes in plan before the INDIGO directive finally established a convoy schedule by cutting back the bulk of reserves to a go-day level, and by setting a 200,000-ton limit on cargo, and making a corresponding reduction in the number of cargo transports.53 General Gerow, head of the War Plans Division, had privately urged that the operation be abandoned. G-4 had suggested the possibility of reducing the size of the force and had formally recommended extending the date of the movement. Now, on 1 July, the size of the American force was brought seriously into question and the whole INDIGO plan was thrown into discard.

 New Decision: Reinforcement, Not Relief

It was primarily President Roosevelt's doubt whether there were enough British troops in Iceland which led, paradoxically, to the reduction in size of the American force. Informed of his views, the British Foreign Office in late June gave a definite pledge that no troops would be withdrawn until both the United States and Britain were satisfied that the defenses of Iceland were secure. The Foreign Office agreed that it would not be an "over-insurance" for the American force to be increased by an additional "brigade group" (about 7,100 men) and by greater air strength. That the British garrison would be completely relieved was still the understanding of the Foreign Office, which at this moment was in fact using the withdrawal of British troops as an argument to persuade the Icelandic Government to request American protection.54 When it finally reached President Roosevelt, the rather lukewarm invitation voiced a concern similar to his own. The Icelanders wanted "picked troops" to be sent and, as one of several conditions on which American protection would be accepted, the Icelandic Government stated

. . . it is considered obvious that if the United States undertake defense of the country it must be strong enough to meet every eventuality, and particularly in the beginning it is expected that, as far as possible, efforts will be made to prevent any special danger in connection with change-over. Iceland Government lays special stress on there being sufficient airplanes for defensive purposes, wherever they are required and [wherever] they can be used, as soon as decision is made for the United States to undertake the defense of the country.55


The War Plans Division, on the other hand, had deprecated any suggestion that the force provided in the INDIGO plan be increased.56 Reinforcing the British, instead of relieving them, was the alternative; and this was the solution adopted by the President. From Hyde Park he telephoned Admiral Stark that the marines were to go to Iceland at once and that the Army was to send whatever force would be necessary for relieving the marines and for providing an adequate garrison, joined with the British.57 The invitation from Iceland to takeover the task of defense, its acceptance by the President, the orders for the marines to resume their voyage (they had been held at Argentia for three days in expectation of the Icelandic request), and the decision that the Army would reinforce the British, not relieve them, all came on the same day, 1 July 1941.

Neither General Chaney nor the British had been forewarned; both were understandably puzzled at the new development, and the immediate response was a surprised protest from the British Admiralty. "Planning here [London] has been based on the assumption that it was the United States intention to replace British troops in Iceland," the Admiralty expostulated. The only questions previously raised, continued the Admiralty, had concerned, first, the overlap between the arrival of American troops and the departure of the British, and second, the matter of air strength. Now came the news that the British were to remain. "Can you help to elucidate?" the Admiralty asked the joint Staff Mission in Washington; while General Chaney sent a similar query to the War Department.58 No clarification was forthcoming until 5 July when the War Plans Division informed Chaney:

The following resulted from conference today. Administration plans to ask Congress at early date to remove legal restrictions on employment of Reserve Officers and Selectees. This request will provoke bitter Congressional controversy. Consequent delay will prevent total relief as originally planned. Revised plan tentatively approved at conference contemplates token relief only of relatively small number British troops and relief of Marines. This limited relief will be possible only if legislative restrictions are removed . . . .59

The claim was not made, as it was soon afterwards, that the legal restrictions themselves caused the original INDIGO plan to be abandoned; and as for the effect of Congressional controversy over lifting them, if the President


had already made up his mind to ask their removal when he made the Iceland decision on 1 July, the War Plans Division had apparently been kept uninformed of his intentions. But the release of the Chief of Staff's biennial report on the morning of Thursday, 3 July, opened the question to public discussion. Immediately the leaders of isolationist opinion let loose a barrage of criticism against General Marshall's recommendation that the twelvemonth limitation on the length of service be removed. Recklessly outspoken in his opposition, Senator Burton K. Wheeler was quoted by The New York Times as being "reliably informed" that "American troops will embark for Iceland. . . ," and was further reported as having announced the specific date of sailing.60 President Roosevelt, who had been at Hyde Park for the past week, suddenly changed his plans to remain there over the weekend, and took the train for Washington Friday night. His first move the next morning was to call together Secretary Stimson, Under Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal, and Acting Secretary of State Welles, along with Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, and General Marshall, for a discussion of the Iceland problem. The result of the conference was embodied in the message sent to General Chancy later in the day, but neither the President nor Secretary Stimson as yet saw fit to comment publicly on the recommendations in General Marshall's report. Then, on the following Monday, 7 July, Presidential Secretary Stephen T. Early dropped a guarded hint to the press that a message to Congress asking an extension of the twelve-month limit of service was to be expected. It was almost completely overshadowed, however, by the announcement, simultaneously made, that American marines had landed in Iceland.61

The Fist American Forces Land in Iceland

With the marines were the Army officers designated for the Iceland survey in early June. Two others, Lt. Col. Clarence N. Iry, and Maj. Richard S. Whitcomb, joined the convoy at Argentia, and by taking a Navy patrol plane reached Iceland three days before the convoy arrived. This would, Whitcomb thought, give them a better opportunity to see how the convoy was unloaded.62

Thanks to unusually good weather, to the co-operation of the British, and doubtless to the fact that three of the four troop transports were com-




pletely combat loaded, the vessels finished discharge sooner than Colonel Iry and Major Whitcomb expected. In four days the ships were ready to return. Perhaps most noteworthy was the fact that the two cargo ships Hamul and Arcturus, though drawing twenty-two and twenty-three feet, were able to berth at the inner harbor docks at high tide, where, by speeding up the operations as much as possible and by keeping the ships evenly trimmed so that they could rest on the bottom in safety, they were able to unload without particular difficulty in spite of the shallow depth at low water. The other vessels discharged over the beach. The most serious problem was a lack of shore transportation, as a result of which cargo piled up on the beach and docks faster than it could be removed. In the interest of speedily emptying the vessels, orderliness was sacrificed.63 The Icelanders were tremendously


impressed, not, however, by the confusion and disorder, but by the vast store of supplies and equipment that the marines brought north with them.64

The next actual step toward implementing the President's decision of 1 July was the departure of the 33d Pursuit Squadron and attached units on 27 July. Although he had made it abundantly clear that the size and composition of the force was a matter for the Army to determine, the President had just as clearly expressed his opinion, as he had in the case of Bermuda and Newfoundland, that the thing to do was to get some planes on the spot at once. The War Plans Division, when the decision to reinforce the British was made, had requested General Chaney to confirm the War Department view that a force of one pursuit squadron, one infantry regiment, and a tank company, plus engineers and services-or about 6,300 men-would be adequate. But in the conference of 5 July the President, impatient perhaps at the slow-moving wheels of War Department machinery, specifically directed the Army to send the pursuit squadron without further delay.65 The Joint Planning Committee accordingly began work on a new directive, INDIGO-1. Completed five days later, it provided for the movement of the following units, organized as a task force: the 33d Pursuit Squadron (reduced); 1st Battalion (less two companies), 21st Engineers (Aviation); one composite aircraft warning company; Company A, 392d Quartermaster Battalion (Port) ; and a number of smaller detachments of medical, ordnance, signal, chemical, weather, and other service units.66 The entire force totaled about 1100 men and 30 planes. Nothing was said in the directive about the eventual Army garrison, and beyond designating the force the First Echelon, Task Force 4, no provision was made for any future installment. Had all the INDIGO directives taken this approach, the Iceland planning might have been less time-consuming.

Under the command of Lt. Col. Edward M. Morris, the First Echelon, Task Force 4, sailed on 27 July in two elements; the ground component, from New York Port of Embarkation; and the planes and pilots from Norfolk on the newly commissioned carrier Wasp. After meeting at sea in the evening of 28 July, they were formed into one convoy and arrived without incident


off Reykjavík on the morning of 6 August.67 As the convoy approached the coast of Iceland, the pilots of the 33d Pursuit Squadron flew their planes off the deck of the Wasp in what was, for Army Air Corps pilots, a most unusual performance and, for the carrier, a first rehearsal for its two missions to Malta the following spring.

INDIGO Planning, Second Phase

GHQ and the War Plans Division were, in the meantime, facing new issues. Procedural questions were no longer the primary concern. The problem, during July and early August, was the substantive issue of what to do and how many troops to do it with. Inextricably involved in this larger issue were a number of special questions brought into prominence by the new situation. The restrictions affecting the service of selectees and members of the Reserve were magnified by the conflict in Congress over the attempt to repeal them. The question of command was made more delicate by the decision to garrison Iceland jointly with the British. And there were as yet undisclosed elements of uncertainty for the marines in the new situation; for if the problem of how to relieve the British could lead to a decision not to relieve them, so might the question of how to relieve the marines.

Under its newly enlarged functions, GHQ had assembled the INDIGO-1 troops and directed the whole movement. At the same time, a Theater of Operations Plan was well on the way to completion by 10 July. Although the basic issues concerning the total Iceland force were still in doubt, GHQ continued work on the plan and attempted to make it sufficiently elastic to meet any changes in the situation.68 The plan assumed that the defense of Iceland would require the force provided in the original INDIGO plan, which had never gone into effect; namely, a reinforced division of approximately 27,000 or 30,000 men, including aviation and service units, distributed among four sectors somewhat in accordance with the existing British scheme of defense. Details of supply, and plans covering the complete activities of the technical services, were provided in sixteen annexes. Flexibility was to be achieved by letting the commander of the force relocate the sector boundaries whenever necessary and by leaving undetermined the question of how and when the British and the marines were to be relieved. The only specific


schedule set up in the operations plan was for the movement of a combat team of some 10,000 men, which was to be the initial element of the force and was to arrive in three convoys before 1 October. The First Echelon of the combat team was the 33d Pursuit Squadron and supporting troops which had already sailed; the Second Echelon was to follow in two convoys sailing 22 August and 5 September.69

This force-a balanced combat team of 10,000 men-represented the currently accepted basis of War Department planning at the time the GHQ Operations Plan was submitted to the War Plans Division for review on 6 August. It had, however, been accepted by the War Department only at the specific direction of the President. The War Plans Division, raising its first estimate of 6,200 men at the instance of General Chaney, had set the maximum number at about 7,500 men. Any larger force, the War Department argued, would increase the shipping and supply burden and would require stationing parts of the force in remote outposts, thus complicating an "already difficult" command situation.70 The President, informed of War Department views by General Marshall, was apparently not convinced, and on 16 July he instructed the Army to send a force of 10,000 men to Iceland during 1941. To put the President's order into effect a new joint plan, INDIGO-2, was drawn up, approved by the joint Board on 23 July, and turned over to GHQ for execution as soon as the President should direct. In forwarding INDIGO-2 to the Secretary of War the Joint Board seems to have recommended that for the attention of the President it be noted that, unless the restrictions on the length of service of selectees were removed in sufficient time to permit sending the troops before 1 September, the marines would have to stay in Iceland until the next year.71

The selectee question was one of those problems that take on a different aspect according to the point from which they are viewed. To General Gerow, who at the time considered the Iceland operation a political move, and not a military necessity, and to the War Plans Division generally, which was concerned by the possible effect of the expedition on the Army's readiness for its long-range strategic tasks, the problem was one of organization or administration and could only be solved by legislative action. The War Plans


Division would have preferred not to send another additional man to Iceland and to leave the marines and the First Echelon there as the entire American garrison; but this solution, it was recognized, would undoubtedly not have met with the approval of the President.72 If the 5th Division had to be combed of Regular Army personnel for an expeditionary force, the War Plans Division still believed that the best that could be done was a force similar to the one indicated in the cable to General Chaney of 2 July but modified to make it a balanced combat team of some 5,000.73 When the First Echelon was being readied for departure it had been anticipated that the engineer detachment would be the greatest problem. As it turned out, the number of selectees in the 21st Engineers, from which the detachment was drawn, was 20 percent less than had been estimated beforehand. Likewise, the transfer of selectees out of the unit designated for the Iceland force proved to be less disruptive than had been originally feared. Before the transfer was made, the entire regiment had a ratio of thirteen Regular Army men to every twenty selectees; after the transfer, the ratio, in the units that were left behind, stood at nine to twenty. Although the reduction seriously hindered the assimilation of new selectees, it did not vitally interfere with the training or functioning of the regiment. There is no evidence that from this experience the War Plans Division derived any measure of optimism. From the point of view of the Chief of Staff the problem affected the Iceland force less directly, but even more adversely, for, to General Marshall, the major consideration was that nothing be done that might militate against the passage of the bill for removal of the selectee restrictions. Any intimation that the War Department was preparing a task force would certainly have scuttled the bill. Regardless of the practicability of shifting selectees, all such preparations as this were consequently ordered suspended by the Chief of Staff on the eve of his departure for the Argentia conference. 74

By this time the British had less need to transfer their Iceland troops to the Middle East. There had been a lull in the North African fighting since late June. In preparation for the renewal of the campaign, the British army in Egypt had been increased in strength from forces no longer needed in England, for, with Hitler becoming more and more involved in his Russian adventure, the likelihood of a full-scale invasion of Britain became, in pro-


portion and at an equal rate, more remote. During July, the British Government even sent reinforcements to the extent of a battalion or so to its Iceland garrison. Then the idea of using that island as a training ground for British mountain troops was born, and this was more important than reducing the British garrison, Prime Minister Churchill declared soon after his return from the Argentia conference.75 But by then the chances that American troops would in the near future relieve any more than a small token force of British had become exceedingly slim.

At Argentia, the Iceland question was thrashed out in the staff conferences held in conjunction with the meetings of President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister. General Marshall agreed that the marines ought not to remain in Iceland, but he feared the effect on the 5th Division of increasing the Army force to the 10,000 men necessary to relieve them. Furthermore, he was confronted with demands for troops to be sent to Brazil and the Azores. Even if the bill extending the length of service of selectees was passed, General Marshall declared, the marines could not be relieved if the Army were to meet its responsibilities in the Western Hemisphere.76 Then, on 12 August, the last day of the conference, news came from Washington that the bill had passed the House of Representatives by the narrowest possible margin. The Iceland preparations could now be resumed, and General Marshall immediately issued instructions to this effect. Nevertheless, the bill in no way changed the personnel situation with respect to Iceland, since the territorial restrictions on the employment of selectees and Reserve officers, which had been the major limitation, still remained. More important than the passage of the bill was the agreement that the marines would stay in Iceland for the time being. The total American force would consist of 10,000 men, General Marshall informed the War Department, but it was to include the First Echelon and also the marines.77 The force the Army would have to provide for the Second Echelon would need be only half as large, therefore, as that called for in the INDIGO-2 plan. It conformed very closely to what War Plans Division considered was the best that could be done whether or not the marines stayed on.


On the day after General Marshall's message was received, there was a brief cessation of activity when it appeared uncertain that the Senate would accept the House version of the selectee bill; but with this hurdle cleared, preparations for sending the Second Echelon went on without pause until the force at last departed three weeks later, on 5 September 1941. The War Plans Division worked out a new joint directive to replace INDIGO-2. The new directive, INDIGO-3, reduced the force to some 5,000 men, provided for the retention in Iceland of the marine brigade, and made minor changes in the administration of supply; otherwise it differed little from the preceding plan. At the same time, members of the headquarters staff of the force were being assigned to duty in Washington, units were ordered to move to New York Port of Embarkation, and the operation was set in motion by GHQ, to whom control of the troops and general responsibility for carrying out the directive had been given.78

The preparations also highlighted the creaks and stresses in the machinery for high command.79 No precise definition of the relation between GHQ's planning activities and those of the War Plans Division had as yet been formulated, and, more to the point, GHQ's operational functions were inadequate for the performance of its assigned tasks. Tactical command and "operational control" over various outlying bases, it will be remembered, had been turned over to GHQ, but the control of administration and supply had been retained by the respective General Staff divisions and the technical branches. Thus GHQ made its recommendation that existing and proposed bases in Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and Labrador be combined into a North Atlantic defense command, and that a base depot, transportation facilities, and a replacement pool adequate to the needs of the entire defense command be placed under the control of the commander.80 The idea was batted back and forth for several weeks, getting a little farther from the original recommendation at each exchange, until, as indicated above, it eventually reappeared as a far-reaching scheme for reorganizing the War Department.81


To some extent, the disagreement on the subject of a North Atlantic defense command was no more than the common, everyday divergence of opinion among professional experts. General Chaney, for example, accepted the premises on which GHQ based its proposal, but he contended that Iceland was properly a part of the United Kingdom theater and that the Army forces in Iceland should be grouped with the forces in Great Britain, not with those in Newfoundland and Greenland.82

But in a larger measure the disagreement reflected the fundamental question whether GHQ was to be subordinate or coequal to the divisions of the General Staff. The plan to create a North Atlantic defense command was not the only proposal of GHQ to meet with rebuff on this score. A suggestion of General Malony that GHQ approve in advance all instructions for the movement of supplies and personnel to Iceland was given short shrift by the War Plans Division on the ground that "a subordinate echelon should never be given power of approval or disapproval of the action of a higher echelon," and the same issue was, perhaps, implicit in the condescending reception accorded by the War Plans Division to the Operations Plan drawn up by GHQ.83 Unfortunately, nothing in Army Regulations or the War Department Mobilization Plan specified whether the staff of the Commanding General of the Field Forces or that of the Chief of Staff was the higher echelon. But in spite of the stress and strain of which all this creaking and grating was evidence, the Iceland preparations were carried on to completion.

There were elements of interservice conflict in the matter of command of the combined United States forces in Iceland. Under the INDIGO plans, the combined force was to be under the command of the senior officer present, whether of the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps, but the presence of a combined force beyond a brief overlapping period while the relief of the marines was in progress had not been contemplated. The possibility that Army forces would be placed under the naval or Marine Corps commander, except the First Echelon and that only briefly, was exceedingly remote. Now, with the marines scheduled for an indefinite stay in Iceland, the prospect was changed, because Brig. Gen. John L. Homer, who had been designated commander of the Army forces, was junior by some eighteen months to General Marston,


commander of the marine brigade. The Navy Department, agreeing that the mission of the combined force was essentially an Army mission and that the Army should therefore command, suggested the appointment of a major general with General Homer and General Marston each retaining command of the Army and Marine Corps forces under them. There was much in favor of the suggestion. Since the 5th Division was to furnish most of the troops for the garrison, it would be logical for the commanding general of that division to command the force. Furthermore, the British forces in Iceland were under the command of a major general. On the other hand, GHQ and the War Plans Division pointed out, it would involve the addition of another headquarters and the insertion of "an unnecessary echelon" in the chain of command.84 These objections were overruled when the Chief of Staff returned from the Argentia conference, and on 18 August, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Bonesteel, who had succeeded General Cummins as commanding general of the 5th Division, was informed of his appointment to command the Iceland force.85

There was still the question of how General Bonesteel was to exercise command. The currently prescribed method was that of "unity of command," which imposed definite restrictions, however, upon the authority of the commanding officer. Under "unity of command" General Bonesteel would have had no administrative or disciplinary control over the Navy and Marine Corps forces that were, for tactical purposes, placed under his command.86 General Marshall, who had long been concerned over the problem, and General Bonesteel both considered this limited authority inadequate to the needs of the Iceland situation. A possible solution was finally found in an act of 1916 by which the President could order Marine Corps personnel detached for duty with the Army, and which would thus give the commanding officer full command over the combined force. The Major General Commandant of the Marine Corps vigorously proffered a number of reasons why this should not be done, but with the wholehearted support of Admiral Stark the arguments of General Marshall prevailed.87 On 22 September, a week




after General Bonesteel and the Second Echelon landed at Reykjavik, the President, in his capacity of Commander in Chief of the armed forces, ordered the marine brigade attached to the Army for the duration of its stay in Iceland.88 The objections of the Marine Corps, minor differences of opinion concerning phraseology, and the question whether an Executive order would be more appropriate, had delayed the President's directive well beyond the departure of the force. As a result, General Bonesteel had carried with him two sets of instructions that were identical except that one provided for the marines to be attached to the Army.89

A Backward Glance at the INDIGO Planning

The Second Echelon was ready to depart by 4 September, almost exactly three months after the decision to launch the operation had been made. During the first of the intervening months War Department planners had been occupied with the practical aspects of the problem. What the operation was to be had been agreed upon; how to carry it out was the objective of the planners during June. The decision to send the marines to Iceland, the failure of the War Department and SPOBS to agree on several particulars, the variety of data, the number of agencies involved in planning and the entrance of GHQ into the planning picture just at this time, the misgivings


of G-4 and of the War Pans Division concerning the feasibility of the operation, all hampered the early efforts of the planners.

Then came a time of indecision, from early July to mid-August. The nature of the operation having once been changed, to change it still further whenever obstacles appeared in the way was the path of least resistance. Total relief of the British was discarded, first, in favor of reinforcing the British and relieving the marines, and then in favor of reinforcing the marines arid relieving a small token force of the British. Between these two proposals, in point of effect as well as time, a number of choices had been considered and rejected, and a stopgap measure (the sending of the First Echelon) had been adopted. There were two elements in the situation that most contributed to the indecision of midsummer. The President continued to fear that the garrison provided would prove to be inadequate for the defense of Iceland. At the same time the War Department was obliged to move slowly and softly, even to the point of making no progress, in order not to jeopardize the enactment of the new selective service legislation. With the passage of the bill in August, plans could be pushed forward. The final three weeks prior to the departure of the force were spent in getting the movement actually under way and in clearing up details that could not be attacked until the size and nature of the force had been determined.

One of the more noticeable developments during the summer was the change in the role played by General Chaney and the Special Observer Group. SPOBS at first seemed slated for a large share of the planning. It was not long, however, before the War Department came to consider the London Observer Group as nothing more than its name implied. Although Chaney's advice on matters of policy continued to be sought from time to time, SPOBS was more often regarded as a fact-finding and liaison agency.

There was an equally noticeable duplication of effort, particularly in the collection of data. It seemed to the American consul; Mr. B. Eric Kuniholm, that no sooner had he presented one survey party to Icelandic officials than another group was arriving and seeking identical information.90 Although specialization might justify the number and variety of surveys that were undertaken, the technicians tended to overstep the bounds of their specialties. Furthermore, not many had time for extended firsthand surveys; all of them relied heavily upon a common source for their data. The situation was summed up with a trace of understatement by Colonel Iry, one of the first official visitors, who asserted that British officers were "somewhat sur-


prised at the number of Americans who have asked them for the same information." 91 The various reports were, as a consequence, individually prolix and collectively repetitious. As a further result, identical data were occasionally transmitted to the War Department through several different channels.

One one occasion, what seemed to be corroborative opinion, independently reached and based on British sources, proved instead to be a rehash of the War Department's own views. The War Plans Division, in its messages of 2 July and 5 July, had requested General Chaney to consult with British authorities and to forward his recommendations concerning the newly proposed American force. The War Office, with whom Chaney conferred, in turn cabled General Curtis for his opinion. As it turned out, the American survey party to which Colonel Try and Colonel Green belonged was then in Iceland and General Curtis asked the American officers what they would recommend as to the size and composition of the force. Thus, the views of the American survey party were in actual fact the basis for General Chaney's recommendations to Washington.

As for the plans themselves, there was a certain lack of agreement between the INDIGO plans and the Theater of Operations Plan in the matter of command relations, both between the Army and Navy and between the United States and British forces. There was also an assumption of permanency characterizing the INDIGO plans, as President Roosevelt pointed out, and at the same time there was a minute attention to details.92 Detail was unavoidable, because few if any of the supplies and services necessary to maintain the garrison could be procured in Iceland. Coal, clothing, food, engineer supplies, signal equipment, housing, laundry equipment, facilities for hospitalization, recreation, and shoe repair, all had to be shipped in from the United States. Everything, down to the utmost particular, had to be provided for. As an ad hoc operational plan the original INDIGO plan was therefore not sufficiently general to accommodate itself to changes in basic conditions; and in its character of a directive it was so detailed as to lack precision. But what effect these failings had, and what the effect would have been had the planning been faultless, is a matter of conjecture; for the INDIGO directives were drawn up in accordance with, and changed to conform to, the projected operations. Thus GHQ was not given, for its Theater of Operations Plan, a clear-cut definition of the limits within which the operations were to be conducted.


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