Operation Puma (i)

'Puma' (i) was a British unrealised plan to take the Canary islands group and possibly the Cape Verde islands group from Spain and Portugal respectively (April/May 1941).

The plan began to take shape, together with those for the similar 'Springboard' and 'Thruster' (i), during June and July 1940 when the British feared that the military successes enjoyed by the Germans in mainland Europe might persuade them to move against Portugal (possibly with the support of Spain), thereby gaining control of these two countries' strategically placed island possessions in the Atlantic. In German hands these would have been ideal forward bases for long-range aircraft and U-boats operating against the convoys on which the UK’s continued survival was believed to depend, even though there would have been problems on the delivery of fuel, weapons and other heavy equipment by sea, where the deliveries would have been liable to interdiction by British warships. Even so, contingency plans were considered by the British for the seizure of these islands should Germany move against Spain and/or Portugal.

In its core form for the seizure of the Canary islands group, 'Puma' (i) was based on the belief that Spain was about to join the war on the Axis side, and Germany would therefore have access to the islands as U-boat bases.

The force assembled for 'Puma' (i) included five commando units, an army brigade, two Royal Marine brigades and supporting arms. Training for 'Puma' (i) culminated in landing exercises in the Hebrides islands group from the large infantry landing ship Royal Scotsman.

The plans for three separate operations in the Atlantic were eventually combined into 'Pilgrim', and the threat to these islands meant that the necessary forces (land, sea and air) were earmarked for this operation over a considerable period.

Emphasis on 'Puma' (i) was much reduced after it became clear that in July 1941 General Francisco Franco y Bahamonde, the Falangist (nationalist) dictator of Spain, had expressly refused Germany the right to use the islands for the refuelling and rearming of U-boats. Franco also decided to change the status of Spain from non-belligerent to neutral, which also eased British fears about Spain’s future position in the war.