Memorandum by the Minister of Embassy in Canada (Bliss)1


Subject: Northeast Command

During the war, even before the United States was directly engaged, the defense of Newfoundland was a matter of concern to both the United States and Canada. As the war progressed both countries invested heavily in new military bases for the defense of northeastern Canada against attack by land, sea or air. The Newfoundland Bases played an important role on the air route to the United Kingdom from the United States and Canada, as well as in the sea and air protection of ocean convoys.

In connection with these activities Canada constructed a naval base at St. John’s for the British Admiralty, greatly extended the air fields at Gander and Botwood, and built new air bases at Goose Bay and at Torbay. The United States, following conclusion of the Newfoundland Bases Agreement in 1941, constructed an army garrison post at Fort Pepperrell, near St. John’s, a naval base at Argentia and an air field at Stephenville, all on territory leased for 99 years. In addition, the United States shared with Canadians the air base facilities at Gander and at Goose Bay. All of these air fields became of great importance as staging and transit points on the main route to Europe.2

After the war and until 1950 the U.S. Leased Bases in Newfoundland relapsed to a peace-time basis. U.S. facilities at Gander were turned back to Canada, but a portion of the installation at Goose Bay was still used by the United States, mostly for MATS operations, and the continued operation of Goose Bay as an air base was agreed by the PJBD as necessary for mutual defense. Argentia became primarily a U.S. naval depot and training station, and the naval air field at Argentia became the USAF station for weather and rescue services. Fort Pepperrell, upon departure of the army garrison, became headquarters of the U.S. Newfoundland Base Command of the USAF, using for communication purposes the nearby Canadian air field at Torbay, now a civil airdrome operated by the Canadian Department of Transport. Harmon Field at Stephenville continued as a U.S. air base to function as a transit point for USAF traffic to Europe, supplemented by Goose Bay.

To some extent in 1949, but at a greatly increased tempo in 1950, the entire picture changed as international tensions increased and as [Page 878] the United States turned to rearmament and to the formulation of global air strategy for a possible conflict. For the next two or three years, as the strategic planning develops, Newfoundland will become of growing importance to the United States. Requirements for planned strategic air operations have been stepped up to a point where existing facilities available to the United States are wholly inadequate. As a result, steps have been taken to lease a portion of the Goose Bay Air Base by the United States for a period of twenty years3 and to construct important installations for operational requirements of the U.S. Strategic Air Command.4 Arrangements are going forward to lease additional small areas in the vicinity of the existing bases for the installation of a global communications system. Present plans call for a possible United States requirement for a greatly expanded air base at Torbay. There is also the possibility that still another large air base may be constructed by the United States in Newfoundland on a site not yet determined.

These Torbay projects, which are still in the planning stage, have not yet been considered by Canada on the government level, and they may be modified by political considerations. The proposal to use Tor-bay for the purposes of the Strategic Air Command as an operating base or even as a transit point, may have to be abandoned in the face of objections that it is too near a center of population. In that case it may be necessary to develop an alternative in the form of an entirely new base at a safe distance from any settled community, and possibly still another one. Goose Bay, of course, does not involve such considerations and that project has been approved.

These projected developments have profoundly affected the nature and extent of United States military activity in northeastern Canada. In the case of global conflict, taking into account the plans of the United States Strategic Air Command, northeastern Canada will be much more than a staging area on the route from the United States to Europe. It is now rapidly becoming an operating area, with bases from which attacks on the enemy may be launched and to which enemy counter-attacks may be directed.

In view of this radical development the U.S. military organization was modified toward the end of 1950 by establishing the Northeast Command under Major General Whitten, USAF,5 with headquarters at Fort Pepperrell. The MATS operations in this area, formerly [Page 879] directed from the United States, have been incorporated in this command. General Whitten’s command now covers all United States military activities in northeastern Canada except those of Argentia Naval Base, which is quite appropriate in view of the fact that all such activities are carried on by the USAF.

Extensive revision of present Canadian arrangements may also be necessary. Certainly the existing status at Torbay, as a civil airport operated by the Department of Transport, will have to be radically altered. Before that field can be extended and rebuilt to meet U.S. requirements, it will have to be taken over by the RCAF, with perhaps a portion set aside for civil air operations. If the war-time pattern is repeated new construction will be at the expenses of the United States, but further use of Canadian territory by the United States will be necessary.

In this connection there is an observable Canadian reluctance to enter into any new arrangements which will have the effect of turning over additional Canadian territory to the United States for a long period, as in the case of the Newfoundland Bases Agreement. The present tendency, of which the current Goose Bay lease is an example, is to limit such arrangements to twenty years, thus linking them theoretically with the life of the North Atlantic Treaty, and to justify additional U.S. activities as essential to the defense of the Atlantic area.

During the war the defense of Newfoundland and neighboring territories, together with the operations based on that area, were organized as a joint command in which the United States and the Canadian commanders collaborated by mutual agreement. Under present conditions the Northeast Command, which is responsible for the great bulk of military activity in northeastern Canada, far overshadows the Canadian command structure. Canadian operations are of relatively minor significance, commanded by officers far junior to General Whitten. Up to the present they have coordinated Canadian activities through a committee of the designated commanders of Army, Navy and Air Force, but they may soon be placed under a single commander, probably an Air Force officer.

In case of hostilities General Whitten, under his directives, would be responsible for the defense of the Leased Bases and of any other installation which the United States operates or may develop at Goose Bay, Torbay, in Greenland or elsewhere. This defense responsibility, as matters stand, is limited to air defense, including the air defense of Argentia outside the actual naval base.

With the rapid development of military activities in Newfoundland the responsibilities of Canada for defense of that area have been greatly increased. It is of course a fact that air defense of the U.S. installations [Page 880] will have the effect of providing a measure of defense for the entire northeastern area. However, General Whitten’s responsibilities will not extend to the defense of Canadian installations apart from those used by the United States nor will it extend to the civilian population. The strategic planning which is in progress will, as already indicated, involve the population of northeastern Canada heavily and Canadian responsibilities for their defense will decrease [increase] correspondingly.

As far as we know there has been no planning for combined U.S.–Canadian action in northeastern Canada in the event of an emergency, beyond an assumption that something like the pattern of World War II might be repeated. There is some doubt among the Canadian planners that this would be adequate in the circumstances, taking into account the drastic increase in military activity which might be expected. There is also doubt among Canadian planners as to their ability to obtain from their government the Canadian military facilities which the situation would demand, especially in view of the fact that the very existence of these requirements derives from activities for which the United States is primarily responsible. It is therefore believed that some careful thinking should be devoted to this problem.

Presumably no joint command would be adequate in the circumstances, but Canada would find it difficult to accept a U.S. command as a result of a bilateral agreement. Cabinet Ministers already have enough trouble, and will have more trouble, over the political problems created by United States activities in Newfoundland. As one aspect of this situation it may be remarked that American and Canadian collaboration in defense is provided for in the structure of NATO, but as yet this has been implemented only through creation of the Regional Planning Group. In the rest of the NATO organization these planning groups have been superseded by commands and the commanders-in-chief have been named. There is no ready explanation for the exception which has been made in the case of the United States and Canada.

However, if this gap in the NATO structure were filled by the creation of an appropriate command a number of useful purposes might be served. It would certainly facilitate Canadian contributions to the defense of northeastern Canada, since they would not be the result of pressure from the United States but would represent Canadian participation in the defense of the Atlantic area. Incidentally, Canada’s share in this would then represent a contribution to NATO, for which Canada would receive credit in the international accounting. Finally, of course, the establishment of a NATO command in this area might solve the otherwise difficult problem of naming an American commander [Page 881] with defense responsibilities for a significant portion of Canadian territory.6

Don C. Bliss
  1. Bliss gave a copy of this memorandum to Norris S. Haselton. the Officer in Charge of Dominion Affairs, when Haselton visited Otlawa in April.
  2. For a detailed account of U.S.-Canadian defense arrangements during World War IL. see Stanley W. Dziuban, Military Relations Between the United States and Canada, 1939–1945. in the United States” Army in World War ii series (Washington, Office of the Chief of Military History, 1959).
  3. See the Department’s instruction 168 to Ottawa, April 3, 1951, infra.
  4. For documentation on U.S.-Canadian discussions on this subject, see vol. i, pp. 802 ff.
  5. The Joint Chiefs of Staff established the U.S. Northeast Command as a unified command (controlling forces of more than one service) on October 1, 1950, and appointed Maj. Gen. Lyman P. Whitten, USAF, as Commander in Chief, Northeast (CINCNE),. At the same time the U.S. Air Force inactivated the U.S. Newfoundland and Greenland Base Commands and the Air Force component of the U.S. Northeast Command, also with Maj. Gen. Whitten as Commander.
  6. Haselton wrote to Bliss on May 23 that the idea of a joint command had been considered on several occasions by the Joint Chiefs of Staff but that for the time being there was no possibility that such a command structure would be established (711.56342/5–2351).