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War Plan Gray

As early as spring 1940, President Roosevelt was deeply concerned over the possibility of a German invasion of the Portuguese Azores. These islands lie athwart the vital shipping lanes between the United States and the Mediterranean, and Europe and South America. While the Army considered them of little value in Western Hemisphere defense considerations, their danger was measurable by their value to Germany. From air bases and naval facilities in the islands, German aircraft and submarines could sortie after the bulk of British shipping.

Our deep concern for the safety and integrity of the islands led to a series of discussions with both the British, Portugal's ally, and the Lisbon government. By October 1940, United States Army and Navy planning officers had drafted a plan for a surprise seizure of the Azores. However, the plan to land one reinforced division was built on sand: the Army did not have the necessary troops to commit, nor did the Navy have adequate ships to transport and support the landing force. And, politically, it was contrary to American policy at this time to become a de facto participant in the European war.

By May 1941 intelligence estimates from Europe again indicated the possibility of a German movement into the Iberian peninsula and German occupation of the Azores and adjacent islands. On the 22d of that month, President Roosevelt directed the Army and Navy to draft a new plan for an expedition to occupy the Azores. This plan (GRAY), approved by the Joint Board on 29 May, provided for a landing force of 28,000 combat troops, half Marine and half Army; the Navy was responsible for transporting and supporting the force. Major General H.M. Smith, USMC, would command the landing force, under Rear Admiral Ernest J. King, the expeditionary commander.

During the last week of May 1941 it looked very much as though the next military step to deal with the Atlantic crisis might be the dispatch of United States ground and air forces to protect either the Azores or northeastern Brazil. After President Roosevelt asked Secretary Hull on 16 May to sound out Portugal's attitude with respect to defense of the Azores, the Department of State first consulted with the British (since Portugal was Britain's ally) to determine their reaction to the President's proposal. At Ambassador Halifax's request, the Department of State agreed to let Great Britain make the approach to Prime Minister Antonio de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal to discover what his government proposed to do in the event of a German attack and whether he would be receptive to the idea of a temporary protective occupation of the Azores by United States forces. On 22 May, before answers to these questions were received through the British, ;President Roosevelt directed the Army and Navy to prepare a joint plan that would permit an American expeditionary force sufficiently strong to insure successful occupation and defense of the Azores under any circumstances to be dispatched within one month's time.

The Army and Navy had been considering for many months past the possibility of being called upon to occupy the Azores. They had drafted the first informal joint plan for such an operation in October 1940. In early 1941 the Army War Plans Division, in reviewing the earlier plan and assessing the current situation, had concluded that an American occupation of the Azores was not essential to hemisphere defense and should not be undertaken unless the United States openly entered the war in concert with Great Britain.

Although the Azores lie athwart the shipping lanes between the United States and the Mediterranean and between Europe and South America, the Army considered them too far north in the Atlantic to be of any value as a defensive outpost against a German approach toward South America via Africa. The islands had a much greater potential strategic value for Great Britain than for the United States since, if Gibraltar fell, they would provide the British with an alternative naval base from which to cover the shipping lanes in the eastern Atlantic. At the beginning of 1941 the Azores were virtually defenseless, and the Army planners believed that the chief threat to American forces that might be stationed in the islands would be from German airpower based in France. Air defense of the Azores would be difficult since the islands then had no airfields capable of handling modern combat planes.

Under the ABC-1 War Plan, the Azores and the other Atlantic islands (Madeira, the Canaries, and the Cape Verdes) would, in case of open war, fall within the British area of primary responsibility, although American naval forces might be requested to assist the British in the occupation of the Azores and the Cape Verdes. Until the President issued his directive of 22 May, neither the Army nor the Navy anticipated that Army troops would be called upon to help secure the Azores.46 The President and the Navy knew that the British had plans for occupying both the Azores and the Cape Verdes as soon as possible after a German move into Spain. 47 While the Army's 1st Division in mid-May was earmarked for an Azores expedition, as well as for many other possible operations,48 there had seemed little likelihood of employing it for this purpose.

President Roosevelt's order of 22 May led to hasty Army and Navy planning during the next five days to line up the proposed expeditionary force and arrange for it to receive as much preliminary training as possible. One of the principal difficulties was to find enough suitable shipping to transport it. As finally worked out, the plan called for an expeditionary force of 28,000 troops, half Army and half Marine, with strong naval and naval air support. The Army and Marine 1st Divisions were to supply the infantry contingents. To move the force would require a total of forty-one transports and other noncombatant vessels. The expedition was to be commanded by Admiral King, Commander in Chief, Atlantic fleet, and the landing force by Brig. Gen. Holland M. Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division. At first, the services planned to send twelve combat landing teams (nine Marine, three Army) to the north shore of Puerto Rico for joint amphibious training. On 26 May this idea had to be abandoned because of the lack of sufficient shipping to carry the troops to and from Puerto Rico. Instead, limited amphibious training exercises were to be held at Atlantic coast points closer to the Azores-for the Army's 1st Division combat teams, in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. The shipping shortage was thereby solved, but the ammunition supply was certain to be short of estimated requirements. Nevertheless, by 27 May the general terms of an Azores expeditionary force plan that could be executed in time to meet the President's deadline of 22 June had been agreed upon. The planners thereupon drafted a formal joint plan (code name, GRAY, which the joint Board approved on 29 May, though an effort also to get the President's approval of it on the same day failed.

In considering the Azores and Brazil projects, Army planners had to bear in mind the qualified commitment already made in ABC-1 to send Army forces to the British Isles and Iceland sometime after 1 September 1941. Current and prospective shortages of air and antiaircraft artillery forces, and of ammunition, made it appear unlikely that the Army could carry out effectively more than one of these projects before early 1942. As between the Azores and Brazil proposals, only the latter would be of direct advantage in hemisphere defense. The Azores operation would detract much more than the Brazilian from American ability to carry out the ABC-1 commitment.

However, while these preparations were being made, other factors developed and altered the original mission of the mixed force. Portugal was opposed to an American occupation of the Azores, and United States planners became preoccupied with the threat of German efforts to occupy South America, particularly Brazil. The succeeding weeks witnessed a change in both the urgency for the Azores operation and in the mission of the Marine complement of the Azores force.

During the early part of June, intelligence sources in Europe produced creditable evidence that Germany did not plan to invade Spain and Portugal but intended rather to attack in the opposite direction. Russia would be Hitler's next objective. The forecast of the German plans put an end to American fears for the safety of the Azores, and permitted the United States to divert the Marines to Iceland.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:36:29 Zulu