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War Plan Black

"The history, the character, the avowed principles of action, the manifest and undisguised purpose of the German autocracy made it clear and certain that if America stayed out of the Great War, and Germany won, America would forthwith be required to defend herself, and would be unable to defend herself, against the same lust for conquest, the same will to dominate the world which has made Europe a bloody shambles. . . If we had stayed out of the war and Germany had won, we should have had to defend the Monroe Doctrine by force or abandon it; and if we had abandoned it, there would have been a German naval base in the Caribbean commanding the Panama Canal, depriving us of that strategic line which unites the eastern and western coasts, and depriving us of the protection the expanse of ocean once gave. And an America unable or unwilling to protect herself against the establishment of a German naval base in the Caribbean would lie at the mercy of Germany and subject to Germany's orders. America's independence would be gone unless she was ready to fight for it, and her security would thenceforth be not a security of freedom but only a security purchased by submission."
Elihu Root, speech in Chicago. Sept. 14. 1917.


The German "Operations Plan III" posited a trans-Atlantic strike by the German High Seas Fleet to capture Puerto Rico as a base in the first phase of the war. This would be followed by an attack on the American mainland if the United States refused to negotiate. This second wave would attack a major US port, probably New York but possibly Savannah. The German command planned to tow shorter-ranged ships across the Atlantic, a possibility American planners never considered.

In a war between Germany and the United States, the German fleet would not first attempt to destroy the American fleet, because success at sea would not force the Americans to make peace; consequently a combined operation would be attempted at the beginning. Invasion, of course, is out of the question, but the results of successful operations against the principal avenues of export and import on the Atlantic coast may prove decisive.

The preparations for the transports and the landing forces will, therefore, begin as soon as the battle fleet is sent out, and in about four weeks the troops can begin operations on Unitconsist merely in a series of landings in connection with the fleet, taking rapidly in succession the most important coast cities, capturing and destroying war and transportation material, and levying contributions. By feints and other deceptions the real point of attack can be kept secret till the operations at any particular point can be carried out to completion, but if seriously opposed, the troops can re-embark to appear again at some other point.

The small size of the Regular Army of the United States and the inadequate equipment and armament of the National Guard may delay the concentration of a sufficient force till too late to accomplish much against a sudden attack.

In the event of a German-American war, America's position would be exceedingly precarious. The United States had an Army nominally 100,000 strong. In reality she has only about 90,000 soldiers. Of these about 30,000 garrison her oversea possessions the Philippines, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal. Of the remaining 60,000 men most belong to the Coast Defense Artillery and other immobile units.

The United States had perhaps 30,000 mobile soldiers available, backed by about 100,000 Civil Guards and militia of doubtful military value. America's small army and militia were not even sufficient for the defense of the principal harbors. The greatest American ports are fortified only towards the sea. The enormous length of the coasts made a landing and invasion comparatively easy, and America's vulnerability had been vastly increased by the acquisition of outlying colonies and of the Panama Canal. A powerful opponent who succeeds in seizing the Panama Canal would dominate the precious "inner lines," and could attack the United States with his whole naval and military strength either on the Pacific or on the Atlantic.

The US Navy's "Plan Black" accurately anticipated these notions.

The best-known version of Black was conceived as a contingency plan during World War I in case France fell and the Germans attempted to seize French possessions in the Caribbean, or launch an attack on the eastern seaboard. In addition, War Plan Black called for the Navy to mine and patrol with submarines the sites that Germany might likely seize for a foothold in the Caribbean

Plan Black (War with Germany) was revised in 1916 to concentrate the main US battle fleet in New England. From there, the fleet would sortie to repel an invasion attempt by the German Imperial Navy. This plan completely ignored the fact that the Royal Navy had the German Navy bottled up in the North Sea. This war plan also ignored the fact that the Germans' main naval effort in the Atlantic would be submarine warfare.

A Coast Artillery war game was developed by the Director of the Department of Artillery and Mine Defense, Maj. William Chamberlaine, Coast Artillerv Corps. This game enabled officers of the Coast Artillery Corps to become familiar with the various phases which may arise during an attack on a fortified harbor, trained them to estimate the various situations quickly, and to give promptly the necessary commands or instructions. It consisted of a relief map, on large scale, of the land and water areas adjacent to the fortified harbor under consideration. Small models were used to represent batteries, position finding stations, searchlights, power plants, and other accessories. Wooden models of warships are made in sufficient detail to make distinguishable the general characteristics of the vessels which they represent. Officers playing the game used field glasses. The models were made to scale, and the view of the whole water area as seen by an officer through a pair of field glasses was similar to the view he would obtain under natural conditions.

In the first place, the war game was the best means of teaching the tactical use of the fixed armament. Secondly, at posts where men of war rarely visit, the balopticon slides and ship models provided the only method of practical instruction in identifying such vessels. Third, the board and ship models may be utilized for training in observation and adjustment of fire. In general, the game served to focus attention upon the fact that there really was such a thing as war, and that "Home ram" has a purpose superior even to target practice; and as a corollary, it forced upon the officer presonnel an appreciation of the necessity for a tactical chain of command above the battery, and made the officers realize the value of a uniform tactical doctrine.

After the Great War this phase of artillery training seems to have been neglected. There were some officers who did not think the War Game is of much value. It was believed that the lack of uniformity of doctrine, the diversified wording of commands, the confusion, and the tactical errors, all of which are likely to be displayed at an average session, of the game, will convince the most obstinate sceptic, if he will only watch a game, that the use of the war game should be extended rather than restricted.

A maritime nation after mature investigation selects certain points of its coast line as being essential to its continued existence as a sovereign State. The places selected are usually those of great commercial or military importance and vast sums of money are expended in providing what is considered by competent military authorities an adequate defense both on the land and sea front. Fortifications are constructed, guns mounted, submarine mines planted, and all of the adjuncts of the defense are carefully planned and installed. A large portion of the available armed forces of the nation is employed to keep these defenses in a proper state of efficiency, to be ready for action before the outbreak of war.

History furnishes many examples where fleets have found it essential to the successful prosecution of war to attack fortifications. The recent wars have furnished numerous examples, among which the attack on Tsin Tao, the Dardanelles, and Port Arthur were conspicuous examples. Combinations of guns and mines do not per se make an efficient defense, a result only to be attained by assiduous training on the part of those in command. In 1903 and 1905, and again in 1913, upon the instigation of the Chief of Artillery, and with the cooperation of the Navy, much was accomplished in the training of the Coast Artillery to perform efficiently its war-time functions in repelling various forms of naval attack. The proper handling of the elements of a coast-defense command can not fail to be a most complicated problem, involving not only rare coolness and unerring judgment on the part of the various commanders but frequent rehearsals of the constituent phases of the general attack.

In many ways the seaward defense of a coast-defense command is unique when considered in the light of battle. It is the only occasion in war-like operations where the mise en scene is definitely fixed before the first hostile shot is fired; the only occasion where the avenues of approach are rigidly fixed ; where the strength and resources of one side can not be reinforced during the progress of the engagement; and where the various phases of possible attack and defense can be fully planned and minutely rehearsed. Failing in such training, the inherent power of the shore defenses must unavoidably be lost in the resulting confusion of the relatively short action.

The scenario for the wargame, described in Chapter IV, was entitled The Fall of Durazzo. The details are clearly those of War Plan Black, defensive operations in a war against Germany. A state of war exists between Blue and Black, the latter having command of the sea. Admiral Brin, with a Black fleet is approaching Durazzo, with orders to occupy the same. Durazzo, 4,000 miles from Admiral Brin's base, is that port whose occupation by Black within 30 days is essential to the successful prosecution of the war. It is situated on an island, and located near Roncador Cay, 350 miles due north of the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. Durazzo is a city of size, importance, and resource (naval and military) similar to Norfolk, and is capable of drawi ng its food for three months from the supply on hand. It contains a naval dockyard of the first class.

Admiral Brin's mission is to occupy this port within 30 days. Hence no amount of destruction by bombardment alone tan fairly be assumed to accomplish his mission, so long as sufficient armament is left intact to deter the Black fleet from entering the port. A single battery of mortars or howitzers remaining unsilenced will be sufficient to prevent the accomplishment of his mission. The military importance of Durazzo is such as to warrant the greatest vigilance on the part of its defenders, and Black can scarcely hope to take the defenses by surprise.

The "Durazzo" nomenclature is obscure. The Byzantine emperors made the actual Durazzo a strong fortress, and Anastasius I, was born there. After the seventh century it was the centre of a theme; in 1011 its governors received the title of dukes. Under Michael the Paphlagonian (1034-1041) it was occupied by the Bulgarians; in 1042 it was retaken by the Greeks. In 1082 it was captured by Robert Guiscard, who defeated Alexius Comnenus under its walls; at the death of Robert it fell again into the power of the Greeks, who held it till the capture of Constantinople by the Latins (1204). From 1206 to 1294 it belonged to the despots of Epirus. It was then conquered by the Angevin kings of Naples, who gave it as a fief to princes of their family; the descendants of these rulers kept the title of "Duras" even when they no longer held the city. The effective lordship passed to the Thopias about the middle of the fourteenth century. In 1373 the city was occupied by the Balsas of the Zetta, in 1386 by the Venetians, and finally, in 1501, by the Turks.

Behind all the critical decisions of World War II was a preponderance of judgment among those responsible for American strategy that the main effort of the United States in a war with the Axis Powers of Europe and Asia should be made in the European theater and that Germany must be defeated first. This view coincided, naturally enough, with the interests of the European members of the coalition but was based entirely on the estimate that such a course of action would best serve the interests of the United States. It was an American consensus, arrived at only after a long sequence of discussions and decisions which reflect a reorientation of American views, interests, and plans going back to World War I. Made before American entry into World War II, in the context of a world threatened by Axis aggression in Europe and Asia, the judgment that Germany must be defeated first stands as the most important single strategic concept of the war.

The prospects for American defense were extremely good because of the fortunate geographic position of the United States and its hemispheric neighbors. Separated from potential European and Asian aggressors by thousands of miles of ocean, the nation could expect ample warning of any attack. It was also clear that, despite recent impressive advances in military technology, it would be extremely difficult for any foreign nation to make anything other than a nuisance raid on the United States. Bombing aircraft did not have the necessary range to attack across either ocean, and Japan lacked the bases in the eastern Pacific to support an attack by her navy on the American west coast. Analysts concluded that neither Germany nor Italy had a navy powerful enough or sufficiently long ranged, or a large enough merchant marine, to attempt an amphibious attack across the Atlantic.

US policy in the late 1930s reflected those realities, although America's worldwide commitments during World War II have tended to obscure the traditional and basic concern of the government and its armed forces for the safety of the continental United States. War plans framed during the decades between the two world wars dwelt almost exclusively on repelling foreign invasion. The immediate defense of the United States lay in the hands of the Navy, which was positioned to control the seaward approaches to the American shores. The much smaller Army focused its attention on coastal defenses that could deny any potential enemy the use of a major port and on maintaining a small but well-trained mobile reserve that, supplemented by the National Guard, could reinforce any threatened portion of the coast.

The rising danger of war with Japan was in keeping with the growing insecurity of all international relations during the 1930's. Every nation with which the United States had extensive political and economic: relations was affected by the prolonged economic crisis of the 1930's and by its social and political consequences. In Europe the principal phenomena were the renascence of German military power and aims under the -National Socialist Party and the passivity of the British and French Governments, paralyzed by conflicts in domestic politics, in the face of the new danger.

The Munich crisis of September 1938 marked a turning point in American defense policy. By that time both military and naval staffs in the United States had noted rapid improvements in military technology and the greatly increased range and striking power of armed forces. Clearly, national defense was no longer a matter of securing the limits of American waters that had traditionally been defined by the range of cannon shot. After analyzing the situation, however, American staffs concluded that no foreign nation had gained the capacity to launch an attack on the United States directly across oceans, but only from land bases within the hemisphere. The basic defense policy was therefore modified, from the Army's point of view, to one of preventing the establishment of any hostile air base in the Western Hemisphere from which the United States might be bombed or from which an invasion could be supported.

In 1938 the American military staff extended the scope of war planning to take account of the reassertion of German imperial aims. The immediate cause was the German demand made on Czechoslovakia in September 1938 for the cession of a strip of territory along the border. The area contained a large German-speaking minority, among whom the Nazis had recently organized an irredentist movement in order to create a pretext for German intervention. The area also contained strong border defenses and a highly developed munitions industry, which made it by far the most important area, for military purposes, in Central Europe. The German ultimatum, backed by German troops mobilized on the border of Czechoslovakia, amounted to a demand that Germany be recognized and accepted as the dominant military power on the Continent - an evident objective of German domestic and foreign policy since Hitler's accession to power in 1933.

Early in November 1938 the Joint Board sent the joint Planning Committee (JPC) the following problem to study: . . . the various practicable courses of action open to the military and naval forces of the United State. in the event of a) violation of the Monroe Doctrine by one or more of the Fascist powers, and (b) a simultaneous attempt to expand Japanese influence in the Philippines. The planners studied the problem during the winter of 1938-39, the winter during which the Germans annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. They presented the result, five and a half months later, in April 1939. Their final report listed the advantages Germany and Italy would stand to gain by a violation of the Monroe Doctrine and described the form it could be expected to take.

What Germany and Italy would try to do would be to establish "German and Italian regimes that would approach or attain the status of colonies," with the usually alleged attendant advantages-increased trade, access to raw materials, and military and naval bases. They might acquire bases "from which the Panama Canal could be threatened to an extent that pressure could be exerted on United Mates Foreign Policies." The probable means of German and Italian aggression with these objectives would be "direct support of a fascist revolution" The planners concluded that the danger of this kind of offensive action in the Western Hemisphere would exist only (1) in case Germany felt assured that Great Britain and France would not intervene; and (2) in case Japan had already attacked the Philippines or Guam, and even then only in case the United States had responded to the Japanese attack by a counter-offensive into the western Pacific.

The planners considered it quite unlikely that in the near future Great Britain and France would give Germany the necessary assurances or that Japan would decide to attack. They nevertheless believed that the kind of problem posed-resulting from concerted aggression by Germany, Italy, and Japan-was one that should be taken into account in future planning, and recommended steps to be taken "to overcome salient deficiencies in our readiness to undertake the operations that might be required."

This study having been approved by the joint Board, the planners proceeded to distinguish the principal courses of action open to the United States as a belligerent in the crises that seemed most likely to develop out of future German and Japanese moves and the delayed responses thereto in American foreign and domestic policy. They proposed to assume that to begin with "the Democratic Powers of Europe as well as the Latin American States" would be neutral. But they also proposed to set forth in each situation that might arise "the specific cooperation that should be sought" from these powers as allies or as neutrals and, moreover, to provide for possible action in case the United States "should support or be supported by one or more of the Democratic Powers," that is, by Great Britain or France.

This projected series of new plans had a new title - the RAINBOW plans that aptly distinguished these plans from the "color" plans developed in the 1920's for operations against one or another single power (the plans for war with Japan, for example, were called ORANGE).

During the 1930's the occupation by the United States of European possessions in the Western Hemisphere had become a favorite political tom-tom for Anglophobes and isolationists. Generally presented in the guise of a necessity for national defense, the several proposals of this nature were invariably stripped of their pretensions by the War Department, which, as late as April 1940, insisted that the potential military value of the European colonies remaining in the New World was not sufficient to justify their acquisition by the United States.

But the rapid advance of German armies through northern France completely changed the perspective in which the strategic value of Atlantic bases had hitherto been viewed. What had been laid aside, in April 1940, as of no pressing military importance had become, a few months later, a part of the basic plan for hemisphere defense. And yet, to take over the European colonies in America would have been to acquire also a host of unwanted problems. All the military advantages of such a step, without most of the liabilities, were gained on 2 September 1940 as a result of the history making Destroyer-Base Agreement, by which the United States acquired from Great Britain the right to lease naval and air base sites in Newfoundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, Trinidad, and British Guiana for a period of ninety-nine years.

In assessing the danger to American security from Axis aggression in 1940 and early 1941, President Roosevelt and his advisers always considered Nazi Germany the greatest menace. They believed that Fascist Italy held no threat at all, at least to American interests in the Western Hemisphere. They viewed Japan as a very real threat to American interests in the Pacific, but not one of the same magnitude as that presented by Germany in the Atlantic.

Although the United States based its plans and preparations for hemisphere defense on the assumption that the Nazis and their partners in aggression had embarked on a calculated scheme of world conquest, a scheme that would inevitably bring the New World under military attack, it is now known that Germany in 1940 and 1941 had no specific plans for attacking any part of the Western Hemisphere. Indeed, the basic objective of German policy toward the United States until Pearl Harbor was to keep it out of direct participation in the war. On the other hand, the general attitude of the Hitler regime was at least as hostile toward the United States as that of the Roosevelt administration and of the great majority of the American people was toward Germany.

To say that Germany had no specific plans for attacking the United States or any other part of the New World is more or less beside the point in appraising the measures taken at the time to meet the possibility of German military action. When the Germans won their quick land victory over France and Great Britain in June 1940, they had no specific plans for attacking anywhere else, but they did have the means. They had a military machine overwhelmingly powerful in land and air forces, backed by an immediate war industrial capacity far greater than that of any other nation. These means were at the disposal of leaders utterly devoid of a sense of international morality. Given this military preponderance and type of leadership, it was inevitable that the German nation, hindered rather than aided by its Italian partner, would strike out in new directions after the fall of France. Whatever the professions of Hitler and other Nazi leaders, the German military machine was not likely to stop until it was defeated. This was the German menace.

Until the summer of 1940, Hitler and his principal advisers gave but scant attention to the possibility of American intervention-direct or indirect n Europe. The German leaders had taken the neutrality acts of 1935 and 1937 more or less at their face value and had assumed that the United States would maintain an isolationist position so long as Germany made no move that could be interpreted as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Hitler expressed the opinion in 1939 that the United States would never intervene in another general European war because of the "unpleasant experiences" and financial loss it had suffered in World War I. In any event, Hitler expected to complete his European conquests before the United States could possibly intervene.

The progressive defeat of the German Afrika Korps in Libya removed the already remote possibility that the Germans would cross to Brazil from West Africa. The Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942 thus had the secondary effect of leading to enhanced Western Hemisphere security. The corollary was that Army units assigned to the American theater were drawn down at the same rate, concentrating instead on troop training and overseas deployment. The Army's continental defense structure remained until 1945, but after 1943 it was a mere shell of the original organization.

During that critical year of preparation and indeed throughout World War II, the physical security of the continental United States was virtually absolute. Not once during the war years did Axis forces interrupt American industry as it supplied its own armed forces and those of its principal Allies. Nor did Americans ever, after the few weeks of panic that followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, live in fear of invasion. Not once did foreign attack interfere with the training and organization of troops for foreign service. By achieving security within the Western Hemisphere, the United States was able to concentrate on the offensive very soon after the Japanese attacks in Hawaii and the Philippines. Thus the importance of the American theater totally transcended its prosaic conduct.



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