Operation Wedlock

This was a US deception operation to aid the 'Forager' invasion of the Mariana islands group by means of a wholly fictitious threat to the Kurile islands group (9 January/13 June 1944).

Created largely under the auspices of Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner’s US 10th Army, 'Wedlock' was associated with the 'Bambino', 'Husband', 'Stalemate' and 'Valentine' (iv) plans, and was designed to distract the strategic focus of the Japanese from the Marianas islands group to the south of the Japanese home islands to the Kurile islands group lying to the north of the home islands.

The plan had its origins in strategic thinking inaugurated in October 1943, and was based on a major programme of news releases and propaganda focusing attention on the northern approach to Japan, a large increase in radio traffic in the Aleutian islands group, the establishment of a notional I Alaskan Corps in this island group, the movement of real and notional troops, the issue of Arctic clothing to soldiers passing through Seattle in the state of Washington, the extensive construction of dummy facilities, an increase in scouting and raiding operations against the Kurile islands group, and the dissemination of suitable information to the masters of Soviet vessels calling at ports in the Aleutian islands group, all with a suggested timetable.
The Joint Chiefs-of-staff approved the draft plan, after it had received some revisions by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commanding the Pacific Ocean Areas, on 17 February. The entire scheme was heavily reliant on deceptive radio traffic, for the appalling climate and dangerous seas of the region were a signal impediment to any Japanese air and submarine reconnaissance

As agreed on 18 March, ‘Wedlock’ was to be based on an assault force of the 109,000 men of five US divisions and one Canadian division, plus headquarters and corps troops. Single US divisions would stage out of Attu, Amchitka and Fort Mears (Dutch Harbor), and two out of Fort Greeley on Kodiak island, while the Canadian division and the corps troops would stage out of Adak. The objectives were to be the key islands of Paramushiro and nearby Shumushu at the northern end of the Kurile islands chain. On D-day a US would land on the north-east coast of Paramushiro with another division following it ashore over the following day, while a third US division would land at two beaches on the southern end of the island and pinch off the Paramushiro air base. Meanwhile, a fourth US division would land on the south-east coast of Shumushu, and on D+2 the Canadian division would land on this same island’s north-west coast, and the two divisions were then to converge in the island’s centre. The fifth US division was to be held back as the floating reserve.

This scenario initially included no naval component, but this was a failing which was soon remedied after Nimitz had visited Washington, DC, early in March to discuss Pacific strategy. The upshot was a 12 March decision by the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff that ‘Forager’ against the Mariana islands group was to be seized from 15 June. Two days later, on his way back to Pearl Harbor, Nimitz met Buckner in San Francisco, at at this stage seems to have seen that the basic North Pacific deception effort could be of benefit to ‘Forager’. On 22 March Nimitz despatched to Washington a suggested ‘propaganda’ (later ‘deception’) plan for the latter operation, the thrust of which was to emphasise threats in the South-West Pacific Area and in the Kurile islands group until ‘Forager’ had been launched. The Joint Chiefs-of-Staff concurred with minor changes, including a direction that the ‘Forager’ plan be co-ordinated with ‘Wedlock’ on 18 April. On 2 May the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff approved a further amendment, to mollify General Douglas MacArthur, commander on the South-West Pacific Area, by making it clear that the project must not give away his actual planned axis of advance.

Meanwhile, the meeting between Nimitz and Buckner had led to a conference in San Francisco on 23 March, and this agreed that ‘Wedlock’ would be undertaken under Buckner’s tactical direction and Nimitz’s strategic direction.

A joint army/navy communications centre for deceptive radio traffic was to be established on Adak; a notional 9th Fleet was to be established for the North Pacific, and an associated notional IX Amphibious Force was to be activated with the five notional army divisions with supporting services. The notional D-day was changed to 15 June to match the launch of ‘Forager’.

The preparatory and initial phases of ‘Wedlock’ were to run until 5 May 5, when radio traffic was to indicate fleet movements and logistical preparations until 20 May, fleet concentration in the North Pacific from 21 May to 1 June, amphibious rehearsals on 3/5 June, embarkation on 6/8 June, and overseas movement towards the objectives on 10/14 June. The five fictitious infantry divisions were the 108th, 119th, 130th, 141st and 157th Divisions, which radio traffic was to depict as reaching Attu, Amchitka, Dutch Harbor, Kodiak and Adak respectively during May. The commitment of a Canadian division proved too sensitive to attempt, but fortuitously the Vancouver Sun published a story, with photographs, at the beginning of May concerning 2,500 Canadians who had volunteered for overseas duty being reviewed by a Canadian general accompanied by an American colonel, and these were put to use and notionally assigned to Adak.

The actual sea and air raids on the Kurile islands group turned out to be the least satisfactory element of the operation. Cruisers and destroyers shelled Paramushiro and Shumushu several times during the spring, and air attacks were launched against the Kurile islands group as often as the weather permitted. More significant was the series of ‘special means’ items launched by Joint Security Control through double agents and other clandestine channels. The series began with a message to Hamburg in Germany on 22 March that a US Department of the Navy ‘source’ had discovered that an operation of considerable magnitude was being prepared in the Alaskan area and that this information was supported by the fact that Alaska was being removed from the 13th Naval District to form a new 17th Naval District with headquarters at Kodiak and Adak. Eight days later the same channel was used to ‘reveal’ that the Department of the Navy was very worried about the priority being given to the Mediterranean in allocating newly designed invasion craft which had been tested for use in rough Pacific waters. On May 2 the Germans ‘learned’ from a confidential Department of War source that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commanding the Allied forces in North-West Europe, had complained about the diversion of landing craft to the Pacific.

Other means were used to ‘inform’ the Germans and, it was hoped, for onward transmission to the Japanese, that army tonnage through Seattle in March 1944 was 175% greater than it had been in December 1943, that the US Navy had 50 aircraft carriers in the Pacific, that four major floating docks had been built at Vancouver in Washington state, and that special devices to aid aircraft to take-off from and land on muddy terrain had been developed, these including half-track landing gear and an anti-mud compound.

In the first part of May, items were released to the effect that army officials were pleased about the report that 2,500 Canadians on the Pacific coast, excited by a visit to Kiska, had volunteered for overseas duty, and that Canadian officers had been heard discussing the matter at a social function. Later in May, in response to a show of interest by the Germans, an item confirmed that the navy had established headquarters at Adak for the 9th Fleet and IX Amphibious Force, and another reported that soldiers in west-coast bars had been heard saying that they were on embarkation leave and were to report back to camp by 1 June.

Other stratagems included the issue of Arctic clothing to all soldiers heading overseas from Seattle. The Canadians co-operated to the extent of making inquiries for a supply of Arctic clothing sufficient to equip one division. Press speculation about the Aleutian islands group as lying on the great-circle route to northern Japan was encouraged throughout the winter and spring. In May and June shoulder patches for the fictitious divisions were ordered and sent to the Alaskan Command.

The USSR being neutral in the Japanese war, Soviet fishing boats working the North Pacific were often intercepted and their crews questioned by Japanese naval patrols, so on 29 April a Soviet ship visited Adak and care was taken to ensure that a new large ‘Adak Reserve Depot’ was visible to the crew, while the captain was fed ‘information’ about urgent activity, rapid turnover, and the return to the continental USA of 4,000 civilians employed on the island.

In May there was press speculation about the future employment of Admiral William H. Halsey, after his South Pacific Area command was closed, in light of a publicly announced conference between Admiral Ernest J. King, Nimitz and Halsey. Halsey was in fact to command the 3rd Fleet in the Central Pacific Area, but at the suggestion of Nimitz’s staff a double agent was used to report that Halsey was to be assigned to the North Pacific Area.

For the key communications deception programme, the army created a special Task Group ‘Nan’ of 18 specially trained officers and 40 men chosen for their cryptographic abilities. The new task force was physically consolidated at Adak with the navy security unit for the North Pacific Area to constitute a Joint Army-Navy Communications Center for the project, under the overall control of Nimitz’s navy security unit at Honolulu; outposts were also established on the islands on which the fictitious divisions were to be stationed, and at Seattle and other key logistical points. A special cryptographic system was introduced so the Japanese would notice that something novel was afoot, and special call signs for the imaginary army divisions and 9th Fleet task forces were established for the benefit of Japanese monitors. Dummy traffic was carefully planned, and the programme was well under way by the middle of April.

As May progressed, the Japanese could follow the establishment of new divisions, see USAAF traffic build up between the USA, Alaska and China, see the build-up of traffic between Alaska and the Hawaiian islands group, and observe that the radio telephone circuit between Anchorage and Seattle was closed at the beginning of May as if for security reasons. Call signs for Buckner and the commander of the IX Amphibious Force appeared at Adak during the later part of the month. Port traffic at Seattle, Prince Rupert and San Francisco was boosted to suggest a logistical acceleration and the movement of convoys to the staging areas.

Radio traffic in the Aleutian islands group peaked late in May and then declined as 15 June approached, suggesting that the radio silence customary when an operation is launched had begun. Divisional call signs began to disappear from their established locations, in the order of their distance from Paramushiro and at times consistent with the sailing time required by each division to reach an appointed rendezvous at the same time, and the traffic of notional transport ships began to appear. With the assault forces notionally now afloat, garrison troops and following echelons were indicated as embarking through to D-day.

The break-off story finally fixed was that at the last minute the operation had been cancelled or postponed in order that shipping could be sent to the Central Pacific, but the build-up would be maintained looking toward a Kurile islands operation in the autumn. The radio traffic pattern was thus schemed to give the Japanese the impression that a Kurile islands assault was contemplated in strategic and operational, if not temporal, association with the assault on the Mariana islands group; that the plan had been that when the Japanese discovered and reacted to the force approaching the Mariana islands group, the ‘Wedlock’ commander would be ordered either to make the assault or postpone it, and that in fact the latter had been decided.

On 13 June a small number of urgent messages, designed to suggest late changes in plan, went out from the Joint Army-Navy Communications Center to the IX Amphibious Corps and then, based on an average convoy speed of 10 kt, the divisional call signs began to reappear at their respective bases and the volume of traffic returned to normal.

The break-off of ‘Wedlock’ in fact flowed smoothly into the new ‘Husband’ deception operation to cover ‘Stalemate’.