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Chapter 3


by Byron Fairchild

(See information on author appended to end of this file.)

In July 1941, five months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the first American task force of World War II departed for Iceland. Until then, the interest and attention of the War Department had for the most part been focused in the direction of South America. As War Department planners saw it, sending troops to Iceland was not an element of the hemisphere defense policy and current military strategy. The decision to undertake the operation was made by President Roosevelt in early June, not as a new course of policy but because the circumstances attendant upon the particular step made the taking of it at that time seem desirable. After the President made the basic decision to send troops to Iceland, the War Department faced the task of appraising the feasibility of the operation in the light of what was being done elsewhere at the same time. The decisions that the War Department was then called upon to make were difficult and crucial. [1]

[1] The general background of policy and strategy against which the 

Iceland decisions were made will be found in Stetson Conn and Byron 

Fairchild, The Framework of Hemisphere Defense, UNITED STATES ARMY IN 

WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1959); Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and 

Hopkins: An Intimate History (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948); Henry 

L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War (New 

York: Harper & Brothers, 1947); Samuel Eliot Morison, The Battle of the 

Atlantic, September 1939-May 1943, History of United States Naval 

Operations in World War II, Vol. I (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 

1947); and William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason, The Challenge to 

Isolation, 1937-1940 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952), and by the 

same authors, The Undeclared War, 1940-1941 (New York: Harper & 

Brothers, 1953).

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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 was 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. There was thus a pressing need for the 20,000 or so British 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 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 (ABC) staff conversations. Although Britain, in her own interest and on her own initiative, had already committed herself 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. 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, was 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.

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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. As long as Canadian troops made up a large part of the garrison force, they had felt 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. As the scope of Germany's aerial blitzkrieg widened, the people of Iceland grew more uneasy; for 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 and in September and December the question was again raised. 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. [2]

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

[2] Langer and Gleason, The Challenge to Isolation, pp. 687-88; Memo of 

Conversation Between S. J. Stefansson, Icelandic Minister for Foreign 

Affairs, and B. E. Kuniholm, American Consul, Reykjavik, 18 Dec 40, and 

Dispatch, Kuniholm to Dept of State, 24 Dec 40, both in Adjutant 

General's Central File (AG) 380 (2-1-41) Iceland; Ltr, Under Secy State 

Sumner Welles to Secy Navy Frank Knox, 20 Jun 41, GHQ-OPD, INDIGO "A."

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American protection. Accordingly, on 11 February 1941 Secretary of War Henry L. 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." [3]

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 Niblack, 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. For on the very same day President Roosevelt decided to extend the neutrality patrol to the middle of the Atlantic, roughly to the 26th meridian. Also on 10 April, Mr. Harry Hopkins and his legal aide, Mr. Oscar Cox, were considering the possibility of convoys being escorted by the U.S. Navy 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. [4] Then on 13 April President Roosevelt received assurances from Prime Minister Winston 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 Sumner

[3] Memo, Brig Gen Leonard T. Gerow, ACofS WPD, for CofS, 10 Feb 41, War 

Plans Division (WPD) file 4493; Ltr, Secy War to Secy State, 11 Feb 41, 

AG 380 (2-1-41) Iceland.

[4] Notes on Diary of Henry L. Stimson, entry of 10 Apr. 41, and 

Calendar of Hopkins Papers, Book IV, Items 3-4, both in OCMH files. See 

also Stimson and Bundy, On Active Service, p. 368.

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Welles met with the Icelandic Consul-General and reopened the question of American protection for Iceland. [5]

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 commitment 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 Infantry Division was one, to designate officers for the survey party. [6] By then 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, had 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. [7] Deeply anxious, the Portuguese Government prepared to move to the Azores, which had been included within the bounds of the American neutrality patrol and from which, by one of the facts of geography, the sea and air routes from Europe to South America and the Panama Canal could be controlled. 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. [8] That a declaration of war by Germany would follow the landing of American troops on either the Azores or Iceland, whether by invitation of the respective governments or not, was regarded by War Department planners as almost certain; but sending troops to the Azores was considered to be more

[5] Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, p. 290.

[6] Memo, Brig Gen Harry J. Malony, Actg ACofS (WPD), for CofS, 30 Apr. 

41. WPD 4493; Memo, Col Orlando Ward for CofS, 2 May 41, OCS Conference 

Binder 15. Ltr. TAG to CG 5th Div et al., 13 May 41, and 1st Endorsement 

to foregoing from Col B. S. Dubois, CA, to TAG, 19 May 41, both in WPD 


[7] Memo, Actg ACofS WPD for CofS, 16 May 41, WPD 4300-10; Morison, 

Battle of the Atlantic, pp. 66-67; Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, p. 296.

[8] Memo, Actg ACofS WPD for ACofS G-2, 7 May 41, WPD 4300-7.

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easily justified as a measure in defense of the Western Hemisphere than a move into Iceland. [9]

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 skulduggery 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 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. [10] 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, 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 the Bismarck off the coast of France on 27 May and forced Prinz Eugen into refuge in Brest.

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

[9] Memo, unsigned, undated, OPD file, INDIGO "A." A fuller account of 

Azores planning appears in Conn and Fairchild, Framework of Hemisphere 

Defense, Chapter V.

[10] Conf in Secy Stimson's office with Gen Marshall et al., 19 May 41, 

Pearl Harbor Attack: Hearings Before the Joint Committee on the 

Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, 39 parts (Washington 1946), 

Part 15. p. 1631; First Ind (to Memo, Malony for G-2, 16 May), G-2 to 

WPD, 20 May 41, WPD 4300-10, Ltr, "Betty" [Adm Stark] to Adm H. E. 

Kimmel, CINCPAC, 24 May 41. Pearl Harbor Attack, Part 16, pp. 2168-70.

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were lost. [11] 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 State Department 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 Verdes 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 at once 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, Maj. Gen. James E. Chaney had arrived in London as head of the military mission which, should the United States enter the war, would be the command headquarters of U.S. Army Forces in the British Isles, but which, for the time being, went by the euphemistic designation of Special Observer Group, 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. [12] On his 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 cooperation. He was merely directed to establish the channels by which that cooperation 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. [13] The Special Observer Group had scarcely

[11] E. W. McInnis, The War: Second Year (New York: Oxford University 

Press, 1941), pp. 186-92.

[12] Memo, ACofS G-2 for CofS, 7 Apr 41, WPD 4402-5. 

[13] Ltr, CofS to Chaney, 24 Apr 41, WPD 4402-5. 

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begun to take soundings in those channels when the decision was taken to move into Iceland as soon as possible.

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

The shifting tides of war and strategy had not only thrust into the background the prospect of an American landing in the Azores and created a more urgent need elsewhere for the British troops that were in Iceland, they had also strengthened President Roosevelt's determination to ensure the safety of Britain's North Atlantic supply line. Declaring an unlimited national emergency, the President in a speech on 27 May promised all possible assistance in getting supplies to Britain. The American neutrality patrol was helping to ensure delivery, Roosevelt declared, and "other measures" were being devised, he told his radio audience. Two days later, in response to an inquiry made by the President not long before, Prime Minister Churchill informed Roosevelt that he would welcome the immediate relief of the British garrison, and during the following weekend the American Ambassador to Great Britain, John G. Winant, arrived in Washington with a further message from Churchill regarding the situation in the North Atlantic. Secretary Stimson and the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, were heartily in favor of sending American forces to relieve the British in Iceland. After a discussion of this and other steps that might be taken to aid Britain, which the two Secretaries had with Mr. Harry Hopkins, Secretary Stimson at a meeting of the War Council on 3 June asked the Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, to investigate "our possibilities in case we take vigorous action in the Northeast." General Marshall cautiously endorsed an Iceland expedition in preference, at least, to making a landing in the Azores. [14]

President Roosevelt, who had been in Hyde Park over the weekend, returned to Washington on Tuesday morning, 3 June, and immediately had Winant present his report and Churchill's message. Telling Secretary Stimson about the meeting, Winant on the following Thursday gave Stimson to understand that the President had made up his mind to send American forces to Iceland. Later that day Stimson himself saw the President and came away satisfied that the "fateful decision" had indeed been made. [15]

[14] Langer and Gleason, The Undeclared War, p. 523; John G. Winant, 

Letter From Grosvenor Square (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1947), 

pp. 194-95; Stimson Diary, entries of 2 and 3 Jun 41; Notes on War 

Council Mtg, 3 Jun 41, in Secy War's Conference Binder 1.

[15] Stimson Diary, entries of 5 and 6 Jun 41; Diary of Brig. Gen. 

Leonard T. Gerow ACofS WPD, entry of 5 Jun 41, in OCMH files.

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On the strength of Secretary Stimson's request in the War Council meeting of 3 June, the War Department had hastily resumed the long-dormant preparations for sending a survey party to Iceland, although the head of the War Plans Division and some of his subordinates were opposed to the idea of an Iceland expedition. Lt. Col. Kirby Green of the 5th Infantry Division and three other officers were ordered to Washington on 3 June; but, since it appeared that they would not be able to leave for Iceland until the end of the month, the War Department requested General Chaney to send out a survey party from London and then to advise how the relief of the British garrison should be carried out. He was to say 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. [16] Discussions between General Chaney's staff and British officers began 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. [17] 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 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

[16] Memo, ACofS WPD for TAG, 3 Jun 41, sub: Special Observers to 

Iceland, and Memo, ACofS WPD for TAG, 5 Jun 41, sub: Iceland 

Reconnaissance, both in WPD 4493.

[17] SPOBS: The Special Observer Group Prior to the Activation of the 

ETO, Historical Monograph, in OCMH files.

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and two Moth fighters. [18] 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 the plans for a ground 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. [19]

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. [20] But the decision to make an immediate move required 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 the 1st 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. [21] To tie the division down in Iceland would make impossible the fulfillment of the missions contemplated for it in current war plans and would 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

[18] Report from Comdr D. L. Ryan to CNO, 2 May 41, WPD 4493-1; Memo 

[Capt] R. E. Schuirmann [USN] for Marshall, 7 May 41, GHQ 333.1-Iceland 

Base Command-Binder 38.

[19] Tentative List of Units for Iceland [no date, filed with WPD memo 

to CofS, [5 Jun 41 ] OPD file, INDIGO "A."

[20] Chart showing Readiness of Divisions for Field Service (as of 31 

March 41), WPD 4416.

[21] Emergency Expeditionary Force Plan, enclosure to Memo, ACofS WPD 

for CofS, 1 May 41, WPD 3493-11; Memo, ACofS WPD for CofS, 9 Jun 41, 

sub: Readiness of Combat Divisions, WPD 4416-1.

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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 on decisions of strategy that were as yet unmade, on future requirements that could seldom be calculated with accuracy, on the Maritime Commission's cooperation which, as the War Department saw it, was not always assured, and on 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. [22]

As soon as the decision to relieve the British 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. [23] The Navy Department gave assurances 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 or about 20 June 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." [24]

[22] Memo, Maj Gen Richard C. Moore, DCofS, for Secy War, 10 Jul 41, 

sub: Utilization of Army Vessels, G-4/29717-26. See also Chester 

Wardlow, The Transportation Corps: Responsibilities, Organization, and 

Operations (Washington, 1951), Ch. V, and Richard M. Leighton and Robert 

W. Coakley, Global Logistics and Strategy, 1940-1943 (Washington, 1955), 


[23] Memo, Gross, G-4, for ACofS WPD, 5 Jun 41, OPD file, INDIGO "A," 

and Memo, unsigned, sub: Tonnage and Cubage of Equipment of Army Troops, 

no date filed with it.

[24] Memo, ACofS WPD for CofS, 5 Jun 41, sub: Transports for Movement to 

Iceland, WPD 4493-3.

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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 which 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 26th meridian, which excluded the whole of Iceland. [25] 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 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. 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. [26]

Harbor conditions and the lack of facilities at Reykjavik were recognized as the real limitation. Although Reykjavik, 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. [27] 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

[25] Ltr, TAG to CGs, 21 May 41, sub: Navy Western Hemisphere Defense 

Plan 2, WPD 4414-1.

[26] Memo, Office of Chief of CA for ACofS WPD, 5 Jun 41, WPD 4493-29, 

Strengthening the National Defense; Statement of General George C. 

Marshall ... (Testimony of 9 Jul 41 in Hearings Before the Committee on 

Military Affairs, U.S. Senate) (Washington, 1941).

[27] Memo, Gross, G-4, for ACofS WPD, 5 Jun 41, OPD file, INDIGO "A."

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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, as noted by the War Plans Division, 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. [28] But before further steps were taken, the course of affairs took 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 the 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. [29] 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 Atlantic 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. [30]

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 pre-

[28] Memo, ACofS WPD for CofS, 5 Jun 41, sub: Transports for Movement to 

Iceland, WPD 4493-3.

[29] Gerow Diary, entry of 7 Jun 41.

[30] Draft Ltr of Instructions, CNO to CinCLant, 12 Jun 41, OPD file, 

INDIGO "A." The official mimeographed orders were dated 16 June. See 

also John L. Zimmerman, The First Marine Brigade (Provisional): Iceland, 

1941-42 (Historical Div, Hq USMC, 1946), p. 6.

Page 86

pare 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. [31]

The shift of units also 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 o 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. [32] 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. [33]

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 General Headquarters (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 time-table. In the War Department, G-1 and G-3 were preparing the plans by means of 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

[31] Memo, G-1 for CofS, 9 Jun 41, OCS 21176-6; Tel, TAG to CG 5th Div, 

11 Jun 41, and unsigned Memo Reference a Conference Held in WPD on 12 

June, 13 Jun 41, both in WPD 4416-1; Memo, unsigned, Office of CNO, 16 

Jun 41, sub: Tentative Schedule for Move of Army to INDIGO, OPD file, 


[32] Notes, on Conference in Office of Secy War, 19 May 41; OCS file, 

Emergency Measures-1939-1940, Binder 1.

[33] Memo, Lt Col Lee S. Gerow for Gen Gerow, WPD, Jun 41, sub: 

Readiness of the 5th Division, WPD 4416-1.

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such details as command and interservice relations and of drawing together the various plans into a comprehensive whole that would conform to broader strategy. The Navy was involved in the formulation of Army plans so far as they concerned convoys and shipping. Finally, the Army-Navy Joint Board, through its Joint Planning Committee, was responsible for preparing the basic directive, which would be the definitive joint plan for the operation.

INDIGO Planning, First Phase

By this time also, 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 June, 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 day after the Special Observers 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, Coast Artillery Corps, who had been designated a member of the group organized on 3 June, and Capt. Richard R. Arnold, Corps of Engineers. After spending a total of thirty hours in Iceland and conferring briefly with Lieutenant Asserson in Newfoundland, Colonel O'Connell and Captain Arnold returned to Washington and presented a nineteen-page report on their reconnaissance. [34]

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. [35] In accordance with General Curtis' recommendation, the British Embassy forwarded a

[34] The other members of the Army survey party chosen on 3 June were 

sent with the 1st Marine Brigade and therefore did not reach Iceland 

until 7 July.

[35] Cablegram, ALABASTER to TROOPERS (personal from Curtis to Chief of 

Imperial Gen Staff, 13 Jun 41. OPD file, INDIGO "A."

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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 Special Observers survey party, arrived in Washington with General Chaney's complete plan. [36]

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. [37]

General Chaney's report was in the nature of counsel on matters of policy, on the decisions that were required, and on 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. [38] 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 cooperation between the British and the 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

[36] Administrative and Logistical History of the ETO, Part I, The 

Predecessor Commands; SPOBS and USAFBI, Historical Monograph, pp. 40-41, 

in OCMH files; Rad, TAG to SPOBS, No. 16, 27 Jun 41, WPD 4402-34.

[37] A copy of the report by Lt. Col. G. M. O'Connell and Capt. R. R. 

Arnold (9-16 June 1941) is in OPD file, INDIGO "A."

[38] Report of Reconnaissance of Iceland, Chaney to CofS, 19 Jun 41, WPD 


Page 89

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 unified 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. The War Plans Division, clearly skeptical, requested immediate confirmation that the British could furnish the 3,128 huts that the War Department figures indicated would be required. [39] 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 on 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 dayrooms, 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

[39] Cablegrams, SPOBS to TAG, NO. 13, 18 Jun 41, WPD 4493-11; SPOBS to 

TAG, NO. 15, 19 Jun 41, OPD file, INDIGO "A"; TAG to SPOBS, NO. 11, 23 

Jun 41 AG 320.2 (6-9-41).   

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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. [40]

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. 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, whereas 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 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 completely 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. [41]

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

[40] Rad, SPOBS to TAG, No. 19, 25 Jun 41, OPD file, INDIGO "A." General 

Chaney was probably basing his figures on British Army housing scales, 

which allotted considerably less space per man than did the 

corresponding American tables.

[41] Rad, TAG to SPOBS, No. 18, 28 Jun 41, OPD file, INDIGO "A."

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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.

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 plan of 5 June had been based on an initial 60-day level of 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, was to be observed, the Navy noted, a total of seventy-five cargo vessels would be necessary.

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 would require 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 Reykjavik, three steam lighters were to be taken along, under tow, in the first convoy. In submitting the schedule on 20 June, Captain Oscar Smith of the Navy Department gave no assurance that the required vessels would be available. The shipping situation, he pointed out, had become serious, and on this account it was essential that requirements be reduced to the minimum. [44]

[42] Memo (unused), WPD for CofS, 19 Jun 4t, sub: Relief of British 

Troops in Iceland, OPD file, INDIGO "A"; Memo, WPD for CofS, 21 Jun 41, 

sub: U.S. Forces for INDIGO, WPD 4493-15.

[43] Memo, Gross for ACofS WPD, 5 Jun 41, and accompanying Tonnage and 

Cubage of Equipment for Army Troops, OPD file, INDIGO "A"; Memo, ACofS 

WPD for CofS 21 Jun 41, sub: U.S. Forces for INDIGO, WPD 4493-15; Memo, 

[Capt] Oscar Smith, USN, for Lt Col Leven C. Allen, WPD, 20 Jun 41, sub: 

Logistics Involved ..., OPD file, INDIGO "A."

[44] Memo, Smith for Allen, cited n. 43.

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The general situation was further beclouded by growing uncertainty within the War Department. Despite the substitution of the 5th 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 he considered it to be dictated by political considerations rather than military necessity. [45]

The Supply Division of the General Staff, G-4, took a similarly pessimistic view. The bottleneck, according to G-4, was not shipping but inadequate wharf facilities in Iceland. And on this premise, Brig. Gen. Eugene 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: extending the relief movement beyond September in spite of the danger of stormy weather; cutting down the force by perhaps providing for a joint United States-British garrison; and reducing equipment and supplies to bare necessities. [46] 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 the risk of partial failure be accepted, General Reybold helped to knock the Iceland plans into a cocked hat.

Meanwhile, an administrative change was taking place by which certain planning functions held by the War Plans Division were to be turned over to GHQ, the separate staff agency, activated in 1940, through which the Chief of Staff could exercise command of the field forces. During its first year of existence GHQ had training responsibilities only; but now the time seemed to have come for it to assume its full role as a command group. In this capacity, 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 prescribed and defined the operations. In anticipation of this step, Brig. Gen. Harry J. 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

[45] Gerow Diary, entries of 19 and 20 Jun 41.

[46] Memo, ACofS G-4 for ACofS WPD, 25 Jun 41, WPD 4493-38.

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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. The next day members of the War Plans and GHQ staffs 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." [47]

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. [45] 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 the plan before the INDIGO directive finally established a convoy schedule by cutting back the bulk of reserves to a 90-day level, by setting a 200,000-ton limit on cargo, and by making a corresponding reduction in the number of cargo transports. [49] General Gerow, head of 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.

[47] GHQ Diary, 6-23-41 to 3-4-42, Army Ground Forces (AGF) file 314.81; 

Kent R. Greenfield, Robert R. Palmer, and Bell I. Wiley, The Organi-

zation of Ground Combat Troops, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II 

(Washington 1947), pp. 15-20.

[48] Joint Army and Navy Basic Plan for the Occupation of Iceland by a 

Permanent Garrison of the U.S. Army (short title-INDIGO), submitted 1 

Jul 41, OPD file, INDIGO "B."

[49] Annex C to INDIGO directive, cited n. 48.

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A 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 sent there in 1941. 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. [50] When it finally reached President Roosevelt, the rather luke-warm invitation voiced a concern similar to his own; for, 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. [51]

The War Plans Division, on the other hand, had deprecated any suggestion that the force provided in the INDIGO plan be increased. [52] Reinforcing the British, instead of relieving them, was the alternative; and this was the solution the President adopted. From Hyde Park he telephoned Admiral Stark that the marines were to go to Iceland at once and the Army was to send whatever force would be necessary for relieving the marines and for providing an adequate garrison, jointly with the British. [53] The invitation from Iceland to take over the task of defense, its acceptance by the President, the orders for the ma-

[50] Ltr British Ambassador Lord Halifax to Under Secy of State Welles, 

28 Jun 41; Telg, Foreign Office to Halifax, 28 Jun 41; and Ltr, Welles 

to Marshall, 29 Jun 41, all in OPD file, INDIGO "A." Report of 

Conference Between the British and American Ministers to Iceland and the 

Prime Minister (Iceland), from American Minister to Secretary of State, 

28 Oct 41, GHQ 320.2 Iceland-Strength.

[51] Defense of Iceland by U.S. Forces: Agreement Between the United 

States of America and Iceland, Department of State Executive Agreement 

Series 232, No. 1703 (Washington, 1942). In the interest of clarity, a 

few changes of punctuation have been made in the quoted extract.

[52] Memo, WPD for CofS, 1 Jul 41, sub: Relief of British, INDIGO, WPD 


[53] Memo, CNO for Dir of War Plans (USN), 1 Jul 41, OPD file, 


Page 95

rines to resume their voyage (they had been held in Newfoundland 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 by 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. [54] 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... [55]

The claim was not then made, as it was soon afterward, 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 for 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 twelve-month limitation on the length of service be removed. Recklessly outspoken in his opposition, Senator Burton 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. [56] President Roosevelt, who had been at Hyde Park for the past week, suddenly changed his

[54] Admiralty to Joint Staff Mission, 3 July 41, OPD file, INDIGO "A." 

[55] Memo, WPD for TAG, 5 Jul 41 (with cable No. 22 to SPOBS), WPD 4493-


[56] The New York Times, Friday, July 4, 1941.

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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 Chaney 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 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 by the announcement, simultaneously made, that the marines had landed in Iceland. [57]

A Final Glance at the INDIGO Planning

The arrival of the marines ended only the first phase of implementing the President's decision to launch the Iceland operation. During this phase the military 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 marines as the first contingent, the failure of the War Department and the Special Observer Group in London to agree on several important facts, the number of agencies involved in planning and the entrance of GHQ into the planning picture just at this time, the variety of data, the misgivings of G-4 and the War Plans Division concerning the feasibility of the operation, all hampered the early efforts of the planners.

Duplication of effort, particularly in the collection of data, was noticeable. Although specialization might justify the number and variety of surveys, the technicians tended to overstep the bounds of their specialties. Not having the time for extended firsthand surveys, all of them relied heavily on a common source for their data. The situation was summed up with a trace of understatement by Lt. Col. Clarence N. Iry, who arrived in Iceland with the marines, when he observed that British officers were "somewhat surprised at the number of Americans who have asked them for the same information." [58] The various reports were, as a consequence, individually prolix and collectively repetitious.

[57] Ibid., Saturday, July 5, Sunday, July 6, Tuesday, July 8, 1941. 

[58] Report, Iry to Chief of Engrs [about 23 Jul 41], WPD 4493-67.

Page 97

After the first phase came a time of indecision, from early July to mid-August. Procedural questions were no longer the primary concern. Again the problem was the substantive issue of what to do and how many troops to do it with. But the nature of the proposed 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 and relieving a small token force of the British. Between these two proposals, in point of effect as well as time, a number of choices were considered and rejected, and a stopgap measure adopted. This was the dispatch on 27 July of a small task force, the major element of which was the 33d Pursuit Squadron, as the first echelon of Army troops. In all it numbered about 1,100 men and 30 aircraft. With the new situation created by the President's decision not to relieve the British garrison, a number of special questions came into prominence. 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. And there were elements of uncertainty for the marines, 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. In this situation, two factors contributed most to producing the indecision: the President continued to fear that the garrison decided upon would prove inadequate for the defense of Iceland and, at the same time, the War Department was obliged to move slowly and softly, even to the point of making no progress, so as not to jeopardize the enactment of new selective service legislation.

With the passage of the Selective Service Act in August and with the decision made on the same day that the marines would stay in Iceland for the time being, the War Department could apply itself to the problem of how to carry out a given operation. Preparations were pushed forward and on 5 September the second echelon of Army troops, consisting of about 5,000 men of the 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Engineers, 46th Field Artillery Battalion, and various service units, sailed for Iceland. More weighty problems, more momentous decisions, and the greater demands of global war were to make themselves felt before the marines and the British forces were finally relieved in the spring of 1942.

BYRON FAIRCHILD, Historian with OCMH since 1949. Ph.D., Princeton University. Taught: University of Maine, Amherst College, and Munson Institute of Maritime History. Author: Messrs. William Pepperrell (Ithaca, 1954). Coauthor: The Framework of Hemisphere Defense, The Army and Industrial Manpower, and Guarding the United States and Its Outposts, to be published in UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II, and The Army and Military Assistance Program, to be published in UNITED STATES ARMY IN THE KOREAN WAR.