Six Months in Iraq

The story of early planning explains how it came about that the first American effort was in Iraq and why that effort was short-lived. For six months from November 1941 the Iraqi chapter was longer on planning than on performance. The ordnance plan is an extreme instance: almost all planning, almost no performance in the field. The case of the Iranian Mission's first job in Iraq was less extreme, though more than a million dollars and the best working months of the year had been expended on projects when change of plan transferred them to the British before they were fairly started.1 In the early stages of new ventures, trial and error take their toll of the best-laid plans.

The Engineer Tasks

The first plans were very large indeed. Broached by the British before Pearl Harbor put a global strain upon American resources, these plans indicated both a belief that the Americans could do anything and the hope that they would. British needs were great, and the President had directed that their needs should govern.

Following the Washington decision in September 1941 to establish the Iranian Mission, the War Office, London, instructed the Commander-in-Chief, India, to make suggestions for American projects in road construction and maintenance, port development with rail connections, maintenance of American vehicles being operated by the United Kingdom Commercial Corporation, and development of inland water transport. This last field of activity, as has been pointed out, was never entrusted in whole or in part to the Americans; but tasks in the other fields named by the War Office were duly considered for assignment to the Iranian Mission.2 The command relationship between India


and the British forces in Iraq and Iran made New Delhi the appropriate clearinghouse for plans for that area. When General Wheeler left the United States in late October arrangements had been concluded for him to stop at New Delhi for consultation with General Wavell. At Honolulu Wheeler joined his chief of staff, Lt. Col. Don G. Shingler, and General Maxwell, who was on his way to Cairo in command of the North African Mission. From Karachi, while Maxwell continued by air to Cairo, Wheeler and Shingler proceeded by train to New Delhi. There from 20 to 26 November they met with the Commander-inChief, India.

On 25 November General Wavell's headquarters reported "works suitable for American aid agreed with General Wheeler . . . ." On the day before, Wheeler cabled from New Delhi his list of "nine items . . . essential for American aid to Russia and to British Army in Iraq and Iran." On the same day, in Washington-after conferences participated in by Generals Burns and George Spalding and Brig. Gen. Sidney P. Spalding representing War Department responsibility for lend-lease, General Robins and others of the Office of the Chief of Engineers, the Iranian District engineer and his contractors, and representatives of the Iranian Mission-a third list of tasks was drawn up.3

These lists are interesting both for their agreements and for their points of difference. General Wavell noted 10 projects: 5 for India, 3 for Iran, 1 each for Iraq and for an undesignated site at the head of the Persian Gulf. General Wheeler included 6 projects for India, and 1 each for Iran, Iraq, and the head of the Gulf. The Washington list, being primarily concerned with engineer tasks, will be separately considered. Perhaps the most striking difference between the Wavell and the Wheeler lists is the omission from the American list of two British proposals: development of docks at Umm Qasr in Iraq ( the task which soon received top priority) and development of ports on the Caspian Sea, inside the Soviet-occupied zone of Iran, with communications thereto. The Caspian task, to which General Wavell's list attached the first importance and which, it noted, would require Soviet co-operation to be obtained by General Wheeler, was quietly and promptly abandoned for lack of Soviet approval.

The Wavell and Wheeler lists agreed, with a difference in phrasing, on establishment of motor vehicle assembly plants at Karachi. The Wheeler list noted that the vehicles assembled at Karachi were for


delivery to Russia via eastern Iran; Wavell's list made no mention of a delivery route but noted that some of the vehicles were to be for British use "for leave supplies." The lists also agreed on: establishment of a motor vehicle assembly plant at the head of the Persian Gulf; a small motor repair shop near Bombay; a repair shop at Agra, India, for signals equipment of American make; an ordnance repair shop at Karachi for tank engines and bodies; a base ordnance workshop at Tehran to assemble, service, and check equipment being handed over to the Russians, the British list noting that they attached great importance to putting the delivery of supplies to the Russians into American hands; and provision of American instructional personnel for advice to Indian Army engineers on the use of certain machinery of American make. The British list alone carried an item for American development and maintenance of one thousand miles of road on the Ahwaz-Hamadan-Khanaqin route, a part of which the Americans were later to undertake. The American list named the provision of river craft for work on the Tigris and Karun Rivers, a project later undertaken by the Iranian Mission. This was included in the Wavell list, but with a low priority. The absence from both lists of an American aircraft assembly plant for the Basra area is explained by the fact that this project was planned through British headquarters in Cairo. The British list noted that General Wheeler had indicated in the New Delhi conversations that he did not feel his directive authorized him to discuss British proposals for pipeline construction; the American list did not mention pipeline work. The two lists represent not specifically agreed tasks but general agreement on the kind of task. No agreement on priorities was put to paper; but it is clear, from later project lists, that specific tasks as well as priorities were carefully considered by the conferees and, because of the changing situation, were left unrecorded and flexible.

The Washington list of construction items was drawn up to enable the Iranian District engineer to plan for procurement of men, equipment, and shipping. It indicated that details of the general construction schemes would be dependent on information that would be gathered at sites yet to be selected, but it did not specifically locate any projects beyond noting that they would be in the Basra area, at Bandar Shahpur (not mentioned in the Wavell or Wheeler lists), at Bombay, and at inland points in Iraq and Iran. Dock, housing, plant, shop, and depot construction, road repair and improvement, and a limited amount of railroad construction were listed; but the paper shows, as do all the early planning papers, the differing bases of information upon which the various planners proceeded. For instance, the Washington list, not


having been derived exclusively from nominations by the Commanderin-Chief, India, mentioned airport construction; and its provision for construction of six hundred miles of pipeline in Iran reveals how far the British idea of a great pipeline network to be built with materials imported from the United States had advanced in Washington, though at the same time, in New Delhi, General Wheeler had indicated that pipelines lay outside the scope of his directive. Again, the Washington list, providing only for very limited rail construction, came much closer to eventual American commitments than did later plans which ranged from creating an extensive rail network in Syria and Palestine to double-tracking the ISR.

With planning in late November still in the broad preparatory stage, it had meanwhile been necessary to appoint a civilian contractor for the Iranian District engineer and to develop a specific program of work. The certainty that there would be dock construction, highway work, and a variety of building assignments suggested the firm of Spencer, White and Prentis, Inc., who, in the years 1932 to 1938, had been the contractor when Major Wheeler was building cofferdams, locks, and dams on the upper Mississippi for the Corps of Engineers. To handle an undetermined amount of railway construction, Foley Brothers, Inc., for two generations experienced in railroad work, were called in and the two companies together (called for convenience Folspen ) signed on 10 November a contract for service abroad.4 Lt. Col. John A. Gillies, formerly General Manager of the Santa Fe Railway, appointed to the Iranian Mission by General Wheeler to undertake advance railway surveys in Iran and Iraq, arrived in the field on 20 November and established field headquarters at Marine House, Ashar, in the business district of modern Basra. With General Wheeler's headquarters established ten days later at Baghdad and the district engineer, Colonel Lieber, still at New York, Colonel Gillies, as mission representative in the south, found rail surveys swamped by pressing problems connected with making lend-lease work locally.

The first orientation of the mission was toward the British line of communications, Basra to Baghdad. Both considerations of security and the indeterminate state of planning prevented the writing into the engineer constructor's contract of exact specifications for the work


to be done. But examination of the contract and of the first detailed instructions issued under it shows that the Americans had decided to concentrate their initial efforts around the head of the Persian Gulf. The contract, without mentioning sites, called for wharf construction, rail approaches to docks, highway building and improvement in Iran, and temporary housing and warehousing which would be appropriate for either the Basra-Umm Qasr area or Iran. In the first directive under the contract, issued just after the Wavell-Wheeler lists, a motor vehicle assembly plant for the Ahwaz-Andimeshk region was among projects listed. Camps for the constructor's men were also specified for the same area. Otherwise, this directive followed the general statement of tasks written into the contract.

The process of determining construction tasks was carried still further in early January when the Iranian District engineer assigned sites now decided upon by the mission. The construction of an auxiliary port at Umm Qasr with wharves, access roads, and railway yards, a construction camp and storage yard, and highway and rail connections with Basra came first on the list. It also called for construction and administrative offices, camp, mess, hospital, storage facilities, repair shops, and an equipment yard for the Basra area. Because no field reconnaissance had yet been made, absence of information as to sources of rock and gravel left one thousand miles of highway construction and improvement unlocated. In addition the constructor was notified to prepare to build shops at Basra and Karachi as called for by the ordnance programs.5

The Ordnance Program

The implementing of the lend-lease process at the receiving end in the Persian Corridor lad upon the Iranian Mission many more responsibilities than those involved in the construction of docks, highways, railways, and buildings. By the turn of the year these engineer tasks had received top priority; but both their determination and execution were affected by decisions in other fields such as Ordnance, Quar-


termaster, and Air. Kinds of projects, location of sites, division of responsibilities, local arrangements for labor and procurement-all these posed questions for which the mission had to find prompt answers. Most important, in its effect on early planning, was the ordnance program.

Unlike the Corps of Engineers which set up separate district engineers for North Africa and Iran to be attached to the Maxwell and Wheeler missions respectively, the Ordnance Department elected to handle its Middle East projects under a single plan for both missions. Direction of work in the field was to be under Col. Francis H. Miles, Jr., ordnance officer on the staff of General Maxwell and acting ordnance officer for the Wheeler mission. The civilian contractor, The J. G. White Engineering Corporation, of New York, after protracted negotiations starting in November and conducted by the New York Ordnance District office, was appointed on 26 January 1942. The basic program was outlined in an advance plan, dated 12 November 1941.6

The advance plan provided for "supervision of and co-ordination with any Ordnance activities which may develop in the area of the Iran Mission," and made Ordnance responsible for the design, location, operation, and maintenance of projected installations, leaving construction to the Engineers. Notwithstanding this definition of responsibilities, the ordnance contractor, by his letter contract, was given "incidental construction" responsibilities, as the following indicates. He was

. . . to organize, establish, equip and operate one or more depots in the Middle East, India, and Africa for the supply, maintenance and repair of tanks and miscellaneous ordnance, signal, engineer, chemical warfare, or other military equipment . . .; to assist in, or carry on, the instruction of British or other personnel assigned for that purpose, in the supply, maintenance and repair of such equipment . . .; to do such incidental construction as may be directed by the Contracting Officer.7


Since simultaneous supervision and co-ordination implies some overlapping of function and responsibility, and since the planning functions of the engineer and ordnance officers and their contractors, particularly in structural and engineering design, inevitably overlapped, there was some duplication of effort, and some confusion as to final authority which was at last resolved by the Chief of Ordnance. In forwarding plans and drawings for Middle East ordnance depots to the Engineers, Ordnance explained that they were to be considered by the Engineers as suggestive only, final decision to be reached in the field by the appropriate chiefs of missions acting through representatives of the Corps of Engineers.

In the case of the ordnance program the familiar pattern of the early period was repeated. Planning and procurement had somehow to go ahead at full speed while policy, determined by all sorts of warinspired factors, remain fluid. The ordnance planners had therefore to determine what installations were to be established, by whom and how they were to be constructed, and how they were to be operated and maintained. Under the first heading the program was precise. It provided that of seven depots for the Middle East, called OMET 1 to 7, three were to be established within the area of the Iranian Mission. The largest of these, OMET 1, at Karachi, was to be capable of serving the entire Middle East area from the standpoint of supply and distribution. Some thirty-six installations there, ranging from small shops to new docks, were called for. Twenty-eight more buildings had been planned for at Umm Qasr and Baghdad ( OMET 4 and 7 ) . The program covered installations for the Signal and Quartermaster Corps and Chemical Warfare Service work, as well as for Ordnance. It envisaged putting optical shops and some other buildings underground. Most difficult of all, it involved importation of large quantities of structural steel from overseas.8

Construction decisions were complicated by the Corps of Engineers' over-all responsibility in that field assigned by the War Department in October. Yet as late as 2 February 1942 the ordnance contractor. having been put on notice by the Ordnance Department to prepare to do necessary construction, believed that design, construction, and installation of machines and equipment for overseas bases eras a func-


tion under its contract. And as late as 27 January the Quartermaster Corps, seeking funds for operation of proposed motor vehicle assembly plants at Tehran, Karachi, and Bombay, made provision also for possible construction of buildings by its contractor, the General Motors Overseas Corporation. Engineer construction of installations under the ordnance program, however, was definitely confirmed by the date of the contractor's revised plan of 12 February.9

Just as overlapping had developed in the fields of structural and engineering design and in provisions for construction of installations, so the determination of policy as to operation of projected overseas bases ran into even heavier problems of division of labor and assignment of responsibilities. At a late stage in planning, in mid-January 1942, the Ordnance Department expected its contractor at the several bases to operate facilities for repair of tanks, guns, aircraft armaments, optical instruments, locomotives, and motor vehicles. In the last-named category, however, a distinction was drawn between operation of projected quartermaster repair shops to be done by the ordnance contractor and operation of shops for the repair of motor transport vehicles to be done by the quartermaster contractor.10 This problem was not wholly solved by the subsequent transfer of the General Motors contract from .the Quartermaster Corps to the Ordnance Department; and fresh problems arose when, as will shortly appear, the ordnance contractor was dispensed with and, soon after, the ordnance program itself canceled.

These decisions were forced in no small degree by the peculiar difficulties inherent in assigning to a civilian contractor tasks concerned with munitions, which were essentially military. No comparable difficulties existed in the purely constructional duties of the engineer's civilian contractor. From the start of its negotiations with the Ordnance Department the White Corporation had urged that the overseas part of its contract "be conducted as a military organization to protect workmen in event of capture."11 The contractor had estimated that


over thirteen hundred American civilians and over sixty-five hundred locally employed laborers would be required for the depots at Karachi, Umm Qasr, and Baghdad.12 For some time the military authorities were of divided opinion and on 9 December 1941 insisted that, because of the need of speed and the dearth of qualified military technical personnel, civilians would have to be used. On 2 January 1942 Gano Dunn, President of the White Corporation, wrote to Brig. Gen. James K. Crain that, while continuing to urge that civilian employees overseas "have some form of government or related agency status," the contractor would carry on. On the date of the signing of the letter contract, 24 January, the contracting officer instructed .the contractor to make no commitments on engaging personnel for overseas pending solution of the problem of military or civilian operation. That the military then were in some doubt of the feasibility of civilian operation was reflected in provisions of the letter contract calling for its automatic termination if a formal contract was not executed on or before 15 April. On 31 January a message was dispatched to the North African Mission stating that Ordnance favored militarization of the overseas projects. On 10 February the contractor was informed, by telephone, that the project was to be completely militarized, and on 18 February, by letter, of the termination of the contract, effective 14 March. The Chief of Ordnance, Maj. Gen. Charles M. Wesson, in a letter congratulating the contractor on "the highly efficient manner in which your organization attacked this difficult problem," stated that "the sole reason for terminating this contract was a War Department decision as to policy."13

Termination of the ordnance contract reflected a policy decision dot to operate overseas ordnance depots through a civilian agency. The White Corporation was thus the first of the civilian contractors to be replaced by the gradual process of militarization. In time the Army would possess adequate manpower to militarize the ordnance projects; but meanwhile there was the matter of building the required depots. The first step in transferring this task to the engineer constructor was taken when on 12 March the North Atlantic Division engineer directed Folspen to place orders for quotations and deliveries for the proposed construction. Henceforward, the engineer constructor moved toward


full responsibility for all phases of construction without the complications inherent in collaboration with an ordnance contractor. On 27 March the Chief of Ordnance inquired of Karachi whether Folspen was to erect the more than sixty buildings planned for Karachi, Umm Qasr, and Baghdad, and stated that the necessary steel had been procured in the United States but that Folspen would have to obtain and ship abroad the necessary skilled labor.14

At this point the critical shortage of shipping provided the immediate reason for cancellation of the ordnance program. On 6 April the War Department decided that "due to shipping conditions . . . no fixed installations will be established in the territory of the Iranian Mission."15 Although the episode with its alarums and excursions suggests the King of France marching up the hill and then marching down again, it is a significant part of the story of early planning. With invasion threatening from Suez, Anatolia, and the Caucasus, the ordnance program provided for urgent strategic needs. The cancellation of planned fixed installations within the area of the Iranian Mission, one of those sudden shifts in direction forced by war conditions, recognized that the odds against the program, including complexities in the planning process, had proved for the time being insuperable.

The Mission's Tasks

General Wheeler's broad instructions-to advise and assist the British, Russian, and other friendly governments within the area of his mission in all phases of the transport of American materials for their war requirements-embraced the engineer program to establish port and transportation facilities as well as the ordnance program to establish and operate facilities for the maintenance and repair of American-made lend-lease defense articles. His instructions gave General Wheeler a direct interest in all phases of the delivery process; but, as has been noticed, this interest was in practice circumscribed by the Iranian Mission's auxiliary status. General Wheeler could not, there-


fore, concern himself directly with the berthing of ships, their unloading, and the .transportation of their cargoes to Soviet destinations. Direct as was the mission's concern with these steps, such matters, in the first phase of the American effort, rested wholly in British hands. The port of Basra was operated by a port directorate maintained by the government of Iraq under the firm wartime guidance (granted by treaty rights) of the British dock directorate. All military traffic was handled by the British Army and Navy representatives. General Wheeler learned that cargoes destined for the Iranian District engineer's construction projects would be unloaded by commercial agents long established at Basra, and that clearing such cargoes from the docks to the site of the American jobs would be done through the British dock directorate.

General Wheeler also found that there was little he could do, beyond offering advice and assistance, to facilitate the flow of lend-lease goods destined for the Soviet Union. As has already been noted, the desire of President Roosevelt to speed help to Russia was providing the port of Basra with a steady flow of materiel. William C. Bullitt, the President's roving ambassador, visited Basra on 7 January and asked questions. General Wheeler told him that the facilities of the port were not being used to capacity and that goods were piling up at dockside faster than they could be removed. General Wheeler estimated that only about one quarter of Basra port's tonnage capacity was actually clearing the docks. Important as was the flow of goods to Anglo-American projects and to Soviet receiving points, and direct as was General Wheeler's interest in this flow, the responsibility for management and control of port and transportation facilities was not his.16

Movement of traffic, being closely bound up with British treaty obligations for security, was not easily shared with an auxiliary which possessed no combat troops in the region and, until late 1942, only a handful of service forces. But industrial operations could be shared. In addition to those planned for Engineers and Ordnance, there were operations for the assembly of motor vehicles and aircraft. To supplement aircraft assembly being carried on by the British at their base at Shu'aiba, one or more new plants had been included in planning talks at Cairo. Prompt selection of a site was essential. After conference with British headquarters, Tenth Army, Baghdad, and with the concurrence of the Royal Air Force, of Maj. Gen. George H. Brett, Chief of the Air Corps, and of Brig. Gen. Elmer E. Adler, Chief of the Air


Section, U.S. Military North African Mission, General Wheeler chose the island of Abadan in the Shatt al Arab below Khorramshahr. Selection of a site for the motor vehicle assembly plant, which had been included in early planning for somewhere at the head of the Persian Gulf, followed the Abadan decision. The choice, concurred in by the Russians, fell upon Andimeshk, an Iranian town on the main line of the Iranian State Railway, and was approved by the Commander-in-Chief, India, when on 8 January General Wheeler conferred with him at New Delhi. A second assembly plant for motor vehicles, also included in the early planning, was determined upon for Karachi on the assumption, not yet invalidated by developments, that delivery to the Soviets would be effected via the east Iranian overland route which ended at Meshed. While the American plants at Abadan and Andimeshk were being made ready for operations, the Iranian Mission, initially through Colonel Gillies, furnished technical assistance to the British assembly operations.17

On 19 January General Wheeler sent to Washington a list of projects for the Iranian Mission.18 These projects comprised dock, railway, and highway construction in Iraq and Iran; motor vehicle assembly in Iran and India; motor vehicle reconditioning, rebuilding, repairing, and servicing in Iran and India; the ordnance projects for Iraq and India, later canceled; projects for the assembly, repair, and transfer of lend-lease aircraft at points in Iraq, Iran, and India; repair of radio direction-finding equipment at Agra, India; establishment of schools in Iraq, Iran, and India to teach operation and maintenance of American-made motor vehicles, tanks, and aircraft; and American participation in a proposed joint commission of representatives of Iran, Great Britain, and the USSR to supervise operation of the railway. In all, there were 31 projects, spread over a large area. Of these 15 were eliminated by subsequent planning, 4 were undertaken by the British, 2 were started by the Americans but transferred to .the British, and 10


were undertaken and carried out by the Americans. Of these 10, 2 represented American technical assistance to British projects at Shu'aiba and Bushire. The remaining 8 were all located in Iran.

The breakdown of projects, not all of which, of course, were to be undertaken at once, is sufficient reminder of the hazards of planning and the obstacles to performance. Under such conditions, procurement and shipment of personnel and the allocation of limited field resources to specific projects were as systematic and dependable as the game of roulette.

Arrival in Iraq

The first to learn this hard fact were the civilians of the Iranian District engineer's constructor, Folspen, who, together with military members of the Iranian, USSR, and North African Missions, and the North African District engineer's civilian contractor's men, sailed from Brooklyn in the U.S. Army Transport Siboney on a coldly raining Christmas Eve, 1941. On the following 14 February they disembarked in the bright sunshine of Basra.19

The Umm Qasr job had received highest priority in early January while the men were at sea; so, without stopping to savor the attractions of Basra, home port of Sinbad the Sailor, for the Folspen men it was Umm Qasr the day after landing. A long line of borrowed British lorries took the group of 117 civilians, and some of the 9 officers and 10 enlisted men who had landed with them, forty or fifty miles across the desert to Umm Qasr by the waters of the Khor Abdullah. Exactly how far they drove it is impossible to say, for they traversed a waste space marked only by camel caravans. For the last miles there was no road. They had come to build one. And they drove that day only to a name on a map. "There is absolutely nothing there," reported a British survey of late 1941. What had once stood when there was a sort of port at Umm Qasr in World War I had long since sunk into the low shores of the Khor, or been consumed by the desert. As it was not known whether the site was accessible by sea, the Americans' ship had gone on to Basra while the British surveyed the Khor to determine the navigability of the channel to the site of the proposed docks at Umm Qasr.20


There was something on the map besides the name when the Americans arrived. They found a rough camp prepared for them by the British. Nissen huts for two hundred men had been promised, and seventeen, all incomplete, were standing, six of which were needed at once for warehousing. Water, brought from Basra in a British-built pipeline, was subject to occasional interruption by Bedouin attracted by its accessibility for their parched flocks. Reservoirs being built by the British were not finished. There was no light save what could be provided by lanterns and candles until a small generator arrived in March on the first supply ship, the City of Dalhart, when there was power enough for the mess and recreation huts. The camp, with only the desert track behind it and the Khor Abdullah before it, was well guarded by British Gurkhas against the curiosity of Arabs and camels. There was no refrigeration-and consequent food spoilage. This was war in the Middle East and the men settled down to fight it out.21

The Iranian District engineer's first jobs were to build two berths at Umm Qasr with necessary rail and road approaches, shops, warehouses, and housing; to build a rail line 27 miles north across the desert to Rafadiyah Station on the meter-gauge line from Basra to Baghdad, and 8.4 miles of highway between Shu'aiba and Margil; and to build an equipment yard and machine shops at Rafadiyah.22 There were other jobs to come, at Baghdad and in Iran; but these had top priority.

The engineer's most pressing problems were housing and moving equipment off the ship and down to the site of work at Umm Qasr. Division of construction responsibility between the British and the Americans, assigned at higher levels, entailed overlapping which had to be ironed out on the spot through the co-operation of the British forces and the Iranian Mission. The earliest discussions in Washington had led to a general undertaking by the British to provide necessary


construction for the proposed American installations, an arrangement consistent with the provision of the President's Middle East Directive concerning division of financial responsibility. Under the directive, it was

. . . contemplated that a major part of the cost of the proposed projects will be incurred in Sterling or local currencies and will be discharged by the British. Defense Aid funds should be used only to the extent of unavoidable dollar expenditures, such as for pay and allowances for American overhead and skilled mechanics, and materials to be procured in the United States.

The record shows that in January it was understood in Washington that the British would accomplish construction, but that if any should have to be done by the Americans it would be handled by the Iranian District engineer. Under date of 21 January Washington asked General Wheeler to confirm that "construction for both personnel and equipment everywhere in your area will be handled by the British," to which he replied, on 17 February, "All houses, equipment and personnel for project, including truck [assembly], ordnance depots, and airplane assembly plants are to be built by British." He went on to report that, the War Office in London having recently raised the question of division of work and financial responsibility between American and British forces, it had been arranged that all local expense was to be borne by the British, who were also to prepare sites and construct shops and housing before the arrival of the Americans. The ambiguities in the arrangement were reflected in a further passage stating, "Americans will necessarily provide some housing of their own, shops and warehouses, and will furnish practically all materials and equipment for their projects." This understanding, he explained, was to assuage British fears "that all work should have to be done by them and .that all we provided were technicians who would supervise complete running installations." General Wheeler's message paid warm tribute to the British: "Cooperation and assistance by British Headquarters, in all preparatory work, have been very cordial, both at Delhi and Iraq."23

Nevertheless, there stood the seventeen Nissen huts and the uninviting desert to greet the new arrivals. They soon learned that the


British had troubles of their own and that, with them as with the Americans in those early days, plan was not always translated instantly into performance. The Americans therefore set to work to build, a process which led to some further on-the-spot adjustment of the general high-level arrangements for division of financial responsibility. It was held by some of the British that they were to attend to local procurement of labor and materials-in accordance with the general practice of the first year or so of the American effort-and that the Americans would act in this respect through established local channels. There was no clear understanding on the details of this point, which affected considerations of local currency and economic conditions. When, therefore, the British presented bills to the Iranian District engineer for certification and reimbursement in dollar exchange, convenience dictated occasional direct procurement by the Americans.24

The serious delays experienced in unloading American materials and equipment from the first two ships were only partly attributable to absence of direct American controls over the operations at shipside. Cargo from the Siboney was got down to Umm Qasr by the end of February. When the City o f Dalhart arrived, the district engineer learned with consternation that the crane which he had designated before he left New York to be carried as a deckload in order to speed discharge at Basra had been stowed by transportation experts at the port of embarkation in the very bowels of the ship and heaped over with loose wheat. Weeks were lost in unloading the City o f Dalhart, delaying work on dock construction at Umm Qasr until 1 April.25

Meanwhile work continued on housing at Umm Qasr; but British construction at Shu'aiba and Rafadiyah languished. Colonel Lieber reported on 28 March

The British authorities are far behind expectations in providing housing for our administrative group at Shu'aiba and have just started the footers for the warehouse and shop at the Rafadiyah Yard where we are assembling vehicles in the open with occasional dust or sandstorms. I have been pressing this and finally got action by stating that I should have to trim off the Umm Qasr [housing and ordnance shop] protects to do the Rafadiyah and Shu'aiba construction.26

All Change-New Priority

On the shore by the Khor Abdullah, April started auspiciously. The sun and the desert wind, stirring up dust and sand, spurred the Americans at Umm Qasr to get on with their job before summer, the_


enemy, arrived. Plant and enough equipment to begin had been brought down from the ships at Basra. There were 3 pile rigs and 5 tractors, a grader, 3 shovels, 2 truck cranes, 2 concrete mixers, 8 air compressors, 11 dump trucks, and 20 miscellaneous vehicles. In the first five days of work the wharf approach fill had been graded, the rigs set in place, and pile driving begun. There were materials enough at the site for housing the constructor's men and for about thirty-five hundred feet of wharf. Two more ships, the Texynar and the Granville, lay off Umm Qasr and the discharge of their cargoes of timber and piling was under way, made no easier by the fact that there was as yet no wharf.27

Then, on the fifth day, suddenly and without previous intimation of what was impending, a message arrived from Washington: "Consideration is now being given to a revision of your projects. Suspend all operations on Umm Qasr project until further instructions."28

The order was received by the American command with surprise, by, British headquarters at Baghdad with dismay. Uncertain as to its implications for the future, Colonel Shingler immediately stopped the unloading of the two ships, since reloading across the beach would be impossible should the timber and piling be required at other sites. On 7 April Shingler told the Folspen officials that bath the wharf and railway projects were to be abandoned. Messages flew to Washington and back. In a few days projects were resumed on the condition that only local materials be used. At this time Folspen was given the first hint that construction was to be militarized. On 10 April Washington confirmed that the Iraqi construction projects would be indefinitely suspended. Top priority had been shifted to the Iranian projects. On 17 April dock construction with local materials was stopped by oral order, confirmed in writing on the 25th. The highway construction from Shu'aiba to Margil was canceled on 9 May, and work on the railway from Umm Qasr to Rafadiyah Station stopped on 11 May. Meanwhile, the ordnance program for buildings at Umm Q,asr and Baghdad had been canceled on 6 April. Only the technical assistance to the British assembly operations at the shops at Rafadiyah and Shu'aiba was to go on. Leav-


ing a handful of men behind in Iraq, the Americans moved across the boundary to begin again in Iran. On 27 May the Iranian District engineer established his headquarters at Ahwaz, followed on 1 June by Folspen. Regretfully they refused British pleas that they leave their equipment behind for Tenth Army, which was to take over the Iraqi commitments in support of the British line of communications.

Behind this sudden termination of the American construction projects in Iraq and the transfer of the engineer forces to Iran lay a fundamental change in high policy. Whereas, following General Wheeler's conferences with General Wavell in India, the first weight of the American effort had been thrown into support of the British line of communications in Iraq, the emphasis was now shifted to the building up of the Persian Corridor supply line to the Soviet Union. During the early planning period before Pearl Harbor it had been expected that the Iranian Mission would be able to carry out both of these lend-lease functions. As the President put it in his report to Congress on the first year of lend-lease, the Iranian Mission was organized "to improve transport and communications in the area from Baghdad to Agra, India, and from Umm Qasr, Iraq, to Tehran, Iran, a region strategically important as a supply line to Russia and as a barrier on the road from the west to India."29 But as this narrative has shown, the increased demands upon American resources after Pearl Harbor made it necessary for the Iranian Mission to do one thing at a time. The January decision to begin in Iraq followed.

Nevertheless, even as the Iraqi projects got under way, the impelling need to strengthen aid to Russia was slowly but surely shaping the decisions which led to the shift to Iran. To recapitulate: first came the President's order of 28 December 1941 to the Secretary of War to meet the protocol commitments to Russia. Next has the President's inquiry of 16 January 1942 to the Chief of Staff as to the possible reinforcement of the two Middle East missions. Then came the War Department directive of 18 February on the militarization of overseas contract activities, looking forward to the time when service troops could undertake an increased program to move supplies to the Soviet Union. Next was the President's directive to Donald Nelson ordering top priority for the release of Russian-aid lend-lease materials, followed by the order to Admiral Land to give top priority to Russian-aid shipping. By early April preliminary plans to militarize the Iranian Mission called for the dispatch to the Corridor of large numbers of service troops in the latter part of the year, and these plans made urgent the


preparation of housing and installations for their, use upon arrival. At the time of the suspension of American constructin work in Iraq, General Somervell informed Colonel Shingler, "movement of materiel to Russia must be accorded top priority"; to achieve maximum movement Washington believed, as did London, that it would be essential to build up the capacity of the Iranian ports of Khorramshahr and Bandar Shahpur in order to make the best use of the ISR.30

The overriding urgency of stepping up aid to Russia was the basic reason for the sudden alteration in the priority of the Iranian Mission's tasks; but there was another factor, India. In accordance with early planning, General Wheeler's responsibilities had included projects for Karachi, Bombay, and Agra. In consequence he was frequently at New Delhi, leaving his chief of staff, Colonel Shingler, in charge at Baghdad headquarters.31 As it related to the Iranian Mission, the first problem of India for the American planners was the extent to which American bases of activity should be planted there and used for Middle East and Russian-aid supply; and the second, the problem of command, grew out of the first.

In October 1941, in Washington, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Moore, Deputy Chief of Staff, discussed with Lt. Gen. H. C. B. Wemyss, of the British Joint Staff Mission, the extent to which the United States should route supplies for .the Persian Corridor via India. Minutes of a conference held on 6 October at the War Plans Division, War Department, reveal some difference of opinion. The British view was that, pending the improvement of Persian Gulf ports, Indian ports should be used. The Americans were disinclined to commit themselves and, in a memorandum of 18 October for the Chief of Staff, observed that the use of India as a supply base might result in the damming up of the flow of American supplies to Iran because of "physical or military restrictions or both," and that if there should be such a stoppage, it should occur in "territory where United States authority predominates," whence material could be diverted elsewhere. The problem was the degree of control Americans could exercise over their lend-lease shipments through foreign lands. General Wheeler had at this time already been appointed chief of the Iranian Mission, his Letter of Instructions was


issued three days later, and he was soon to leave for Hawaii en route via New Delhi to Baghdad. The conferences at New Delhi seem to have clarified the problem. When General Wheeler reported to Washington during the talks with General Wavell in November, he accepted the British desire to use western Indian ports for Iranian shipments with no fears such as had been expressed previously in Washington. He strongly urged the use of Bombay and Karachi to take the strain from Basra, Bandar Shahpur, and Bushire. When the ordnance and quartermaster plans were added to other American plans to assist the British in the Middle East, India figured prominently as a site for installations.32

In fact, India increasingly figured in American planning as a base not only for Persian Corridor and other Middle East needs, but also for lend-lease aid to India and, even more important, American Army requirements in the area. Because of uncertainty as to Japanese intentions in the Indian Ocean, Bombay and Karachi were more likely candidates than more exposed Indian ports. On 28 February 1942 the War Department, taking into consideration the supply needs of American and Chinese forces in China, India, and Burma, assigned General Wheeler to the command of a Services of Supply ( SOS ) organization for the American Army forces in the region. Wheeler was to continue as chief of the Iranian Mission.33

By this time it was already apparent, from developments in January, that the overland delivery route, Zahidan-Meshed, would not be acceptable to the Russians for lend-lease deliveries. Karachi, Bombay, and India itself were thus all but eliminated as points in the American supply line to Russia. The new Commanding General, Services of Supply, China-Burma-India, was therefore concerned not with Russian aid, but with supply for the CBI theater. After his arrival in India to take over his command, Wheeler informed Washington that in his opinion all proposed American installations in India should be under the "American commander in India, General Stilwell, including Iranian Mission projects . . . ."34 The separation of the Iranian Mission's Persian Corridor activities from its Indian projects followed, accompanied by command rearrangements.

On 3 April General Marshall by radio relieved Wheeler as chief of the Iranian Mission, detached India from the area included in that mission's responsibilities, continued Karachi nevertheless as a base for the two American Middle East missions, and instructed Wheeler to


make further plans for Karachi and elsewhere solely on the basis of the requirements of SOS, CBI. The message added that Colonel Shingler would replace Wheeler as chief of mission. Next day, 4 April, General Somervell appointed Shingler chief and notified him that the Iranian Mission and its personnel were no longer under the Secretary of War but under his own SOS command.35

The brief Iraqi episode, beset with the confusion that attends new and untried enterprises, ended upon a note of clear-cut decision. Henceforth, as the Americans established themselves in Iran, their strength was to be applied to an ever increasing assumption of that part of the British program in the Corridor which was concerned with aid to Russia.



Previous Chapter

Next Chapter

page created 17 January 2002

Return to the Table of Contents

Return to CMH Online