GENERAL ARTICLES

THE WATCH ON THE ARCTIC

BLAIR FRASER December 1 1946
GENERAL ARTICLES

THE WATCH ON THE ARCTIC

BLAIR FRASER December 1 1946

THE WATCH ON THE ARCTIC

To military men the Arctic is America’s most vulnerable frontier. Here is an informed report on what they are thinking—and planning

BLAIR FRASER

Maclean’s Ottawa Editor

IN WASHINGTON an American staff officer said, “No, we don’t think another war is inevitable. For quite a few years it isn't even likely—certainly the Russian people don’t want one, any more than we do. Our only real fear is that the Kremlin might kind of stumbe into a war.” That is the official military view in Washington and Ottawa, presumably in London too. State Department and External Affairs people dislike even talking about defense, for fear of creating suspicion and aggravating tension.

Soldiers and civilians both realize that our first, perhaps our only effective line of defense is political —that the only way to win the next war is to prevent it. Most civilian officials don’t even share the soldier’s fear that we might “stumble” into a war in the near future. They’re convinced the risk of a major war is at least a dozen years away. By that time, they think, atomic bombs and guided missiles will be so well-developed that any two major combatants could wipe each other out.

That’s why, during recent months, key decisions of North American defense policy have not been left to military planners alone, but 1 ve been discussed at the highest political level. OL “defense

planning” has been concentrated on two primary aims:

To build United Nations into a working machinery for settling disputes; and

To convince the Soviet Union that the western democracies don’t mean to attack her.

Defense in the ordinary sense, the disposition of military forces and the strategy of physical conflict, has been put in third place. It must not interfere with the two major objectives.

A One-Way Front

ÏF ANOTHER war should come, Allied strategists believe the Canadian Arctic would be a fairly important front. But to our side, they say, its importance would be purely defensive. For aggression it would be no use to us whatever.

For the western democracies the route across the Pole would be the longest of all channels of attack against any foe in Europe or in Asia. There are easier ways to the heart land of any Flurasian power. Crossing the Pole would be, for us, a last resort after we’d been driven out of the Middle East, the Continent of Europe, the British Isles, or after we had completely lost control of the seas.

But for an enemy attacking us, these considerations do not hold. For him the Arctic icecap is not merely the shortest, it is the only route by which

to attack the heart land of the democracies.

The democracies’ advantage over any possible foe is the industrial production of North America. Other nuclear physicists might develop their own atom bomb—may have done so now, for all we know. But with German industry in ruins, there is no nation on earth that could equal the industrial plant of North America in less than a generation.

In war, then, that industrial plant would be a vital military objective. Victory would depend on the enemy knocking out the nickel supplies of Copper Cliff, the Continued on page 8

Continued from page 7

aluminum of,’Arvida, the raw steel of Pittsburgh and the tanks and planes of Detroit. The only way he could get at this area, with any weapons now known or even projected, is across the Pole.

This doesn’t mean Canada would be a major battleground in the usual sense. Nobody expects an invading army to parachute down for large-scale infantry engagements in the Mackenzie Valley, or send Panzer units coursing along the Alaska Highway.

“In my opinion this continent is absolutely secure from mass invasion,” said a man who was a commander in World War II. “Look at the size of the Arctic. Then think how many ships it took to move our invasion force across 21 miles of Channel. Remember October ’44, when Patton was stalled on the Ruhr because he couldn’t bring up enough gasoline for his tanks, and the Canadians were stalled in the Low Countries because we couldn’t open the port of Antwerp.

“No nation, no group of nations, has enough sea and air power to launch a mass invasion across the Arctic, or the Atlantic either. Invasion is not the threat.”

But security from invasion does not mean immunity from attack. Soldiers think it more than likely, they think it almost certain that if war were to come again, this continent would be attacked rather heavily from the north.

Even today’s long-range bombers could make such a sortie. They could take off from any one of a dozen far northern pointssay, from the Arctic islands of Spitzbergen or Jan Mayen. These belong to friendly Norway. In World War II we occupied Spitzbergen without firing a shot; but it’s reasonable to assume that in another war such tiny and remote islands would he vulnerable to the first comer. And a bomber fleet from either of them could avoid running the gauntlet of Alaska and the Mackenzie Valley. It could cross the empty northern tip of Greenland, come down across Ungava and James Bay. Before it would be spotted under present conditions it could be well into central Ontario, only a few hundred miles from Pittsburgh—or, indeed, it could be actually dropping bombs on Arvida.

What Rockets Could Do

SUCH an attack could be made with weapons already in production. For a dozen years, probably more, no better and no faster means will be available— not for anything like the vast ranges a transpolar attack would require. The Germans V-2 is the best-guided missile that’s anywhere near actual production, and experts claim that the ' 2’s range is unlikely to be pushed beyond 500 mile;

But t\°in are worse things on the drawing boards than V-Sre^The rocket that bombed London is just a toy,” say¿ a U. S. Army Air Force publication, “compared t° what the Germans had up their sleeve.” ]\Iost sensational of these embryonic destroyers Was the A-9, a radar-guided, winged rocket weighing 29,000 pounds, with a top speed of near|y 6,000 miles an hour and a flying range of 3,000 iniies. ,

Such a weapon is years away. But German plans for it have been captured and are now available to every nation that was a belligerent in World War II. If another war should come, the A-9 would come sooner or later and this time it would carry an atomic bomb in its nose.

With either kind of weapon, attack across the Pole could take two forms. One would be a smallscale bombing, with or without rocket support, which would have a fairly limited objective but would be easy to launch and might achieve almost complete surprise. It could either be a straight suicide venture, or—more likely—it could provide for rescue of pilots at a rendezvous in the Atlantic. Such an attack would serve a double purpose. Physically, it could do a good deal of damage to an industrial plant which, though the biggest in the world, Y also the most vulnerable—centralized, intricat—, open to Continued on page 69

Continued from page 8

assault. Also, the observation and experience of such sorties would be invaluable for planning larger offensives.

Psychologically, a small or medium bombing could win a tremendous victory by creating in North America a strong “Keep the Armies Home” sentiment.

“That’s our great worry in this talk about Canada being a battleground,” one military man said. “We’re afraid, not that the need for defending the Arctic won’t be appreciated, but that it may be overappreciated.

“In any war in which we might be involved, the Arctic would be a secondary front. The major front would be in the Middle or the Far East, the European Continent, the British Isles. It’s our greatest defense interest to keep it there. If any enemy power could panic North Americans into keeping their armies home, immobilizing their striking force along a huge Arctic front that might never again be attacked, we’d have lost the war right there.”

Saturation Assault

But the assault might not be minor. It could be a terrific air offensive, aimed at “saturation bombing” of the great industrial heart land. Then a deadly hail of long-range rockets, robot bombs, every known kind of air-borne missile would fall upon us at once. Targets might include every North American city from Sudbury to the Tennessee Valley, from Chicago to the Atlantic.

That kind of assault would be infinitely costly and difficult for an enemy to launch. He would have to establish several hundred thousand men in the Arctic, and supply them with even more than the tons of matériel every soldier needs inordinary terrain and climate. He would have to conduct an immense and complex tactical operation over a huge front— paratroop seizures of northern islands, rapid assembly of air-borne launching gear for medium-range rockets, maintenance of considerable forces at hundreds of miles from a supply base.

The risk in such an operation would be colossal. The prize would be equally so—no less than victory itself.

From our point of view the Arctic in another world war might be like the Middle East in the first two. It’s not an area in which we can win, but it might be an area where we could lose —an area where, with relatively small forces, the enemy might strike a decisive, paralyzing blow.

Against this threat, what will our defenses be?

“There’s no such thing as a complete defense,” one officer replied. “To make ourselves 100% secure in the north we’d have to divert the whole of a very heavy defense budget, billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of men. We’d have to patrol millions of barren square miles, 24 hours a day; have radar stations every 200 miles; man anti-aircraft batteries constantly. Even then we might not be able to stop an air attack across the Pole—and we certainly would have no strength left to do anything else.”

The most we could expect, in the view of professional soldiers, would be a “reasonable” defense system in the north. It wouldn’t guarantee us against assault; it would, we hope, stave off annihilation, enable us to keep on operating the factories which are the democracies’ greatest military asset.

In any kind of Arctic defense scheme, the obvious first step is to know the territory, and know how to operate in it. This is as far as concrete defense plans have gone at the moment.

Canada has decided to make Churchill, Man., a major military training base. We shan’t have very many men up there—500 is the maximum under present plans. The Americans have asked if they may send 1,000 men to take part in the training and defense research at Churchill. Canada’s answer was, “Sure, come along—as soon as we have room.” This winter we shall have barrack space for only 100 Americans; later, if they still want that many, we’ll be glad to have the other 900.

Through Churchill, as the years go by, will pass virtually all Canada’s combat troops. Our peacetime army will have a total strength of 25,000, but that includes administrative offi-

cers, instructors, Army Service Corps and so on. Actual field troops will be only a brigade group, seven or eight thousand men.

In war, just about that many men would be needed for a minimum, skeleton garrison in the Canadian Arctic. Therefore, the Defense Department reasons, it would be good business to provide Arctic equipment and Arctic training for every combat soldier in the Canadian peacetime force. It wouldn’t have to be confined to the regular army, either—winter training in militia units could include the kind of operation a northern force would have to know how to carry out.

Not every man so trained would actually be used in the Arctic; again, as always in the past, Canada’s main war effort probably would be directed overseas. But it would be a natural, suitable job for Canada to provide the backbone of trained men, special gear and tactical experience for the northern defense of this hemisphere. That’s what we’d expect to have to do. At the same time we would, as a matter of course, offer training and operational facilities to our certain allies, the Americans.

Test Base

In Churchill we shall carry on not only training but extensive research. What metals are best for temperatures like-50 Fahr.? What lubricants? What clothing? What special medical problems arise?

The answers will have tremendous value for civil as well as military purposes. The best tank track will also make the best northern tractor. Service clothing for soldiers is not essentially different from work clothing for miners, prospectors, oil drillers.

Exercise Musk - Ox, last winter, answered some questions and raised a few new ones in the vital field of transport. It found out things about tractor gear that lately were the subject of a conference with Canadian and American motor makers. As a result, motor equipment for northern mines will benefit by several changes in design.

Everybody who knows the north, soldier or civilian, agrees that the problem of transport is basic. So long as we have nothing in between the dog team and the plane, we shall continue to “skim” the resources of the Arctic—for air transport is the costliest in the world. Only when surface transport of something like ordinary cost has been devised shall we be able to exploit Arctic resources as we do those of the rest of the country.

Another necessary job is straight exploration. Thousands of square miles in the north are not even properly mapped. A major RCAF project, working with the Mines and Resources Department, will be a systematic survey of the whole north country.

A third project, under consideration at the top level right now, is the establishment of new weather observation posts in the Arctic, where most North American weather originates. Meteorology is still an infant science, but there seems a real chance that with more information on the origins of weather, we could get long - range predictions, months or whole seasons in advance, which would be worth millions of dollars.

Plans are now under study in Ottawa for a “lattice” of far northern weather stations that would fill the worst gaps in the present observation system. We have 28 stations now. The plan calls for 11 more, two in the subarctic north of Baker Lake, nine on Arctic islands, with the farthest almost at the North Pole. Cont. on page 70

Continued, from page 69

Cost of the project is still being worked out, but might run as high as $100 millions. The United States would be glad to pay a fat share of this. Outlay might also be cut by using surplus war equipment of high face value but little actual use for ordinary purposes.

These weather posts would have no direct relation to military defense. Far from being anti-Soviet, they’d he a good deal of help to the Soviet Union, whose Arctic weather observation network is far better developed than ours. We’re now getting more information from them than they’re getting from us; with the new stations we could give as much as we get.

But permanent weather stations will have one important defense purpose. They’ll help open up our Arctic. They’ll put people where now there is solitude. They’ll install and improve communications—perhaps solve a few of those special problems that bedevil radio and telegraph, men in the neighborhood of the magnetic pole.

Later, if a need should arise, they could be expanded quickly into radar “early warning” stations for detection of transpolar assault. But right now nothing so pugnacious as a warning station is definitely planned.

No serious disagreement has come up, anywhere, about putting these plans into effect. The two Governments, the three services, all affected civilian departments are of one mind about the training and research base at Churchill, the extension of weather stations, and of exploratory surveys.

Budget Offensive

Six months ago we did have a little trouble, though it didn’t last long. American planners woke up rather suddenly last spring to the importance of the Arctic in hemisphere defense, and decided something ought to be done about it. Their last wartime budget expired June 30—until then they had unlimited funds, but from July 1 onward they’d go back to counting pennies. Naturally, their reaction was, “We’d better do something expensive, and do it fast.”

Hasty but elaborate plans were rushed to the Permanent Joint Defense Board. One project, for a $4-million weather station on Melville Island in the Western Arctic, got as far as the assembly of a high-priced crew (cooks, $90 a week). Not much thought was given to secondary considerations —such as the fact that all this would be on Canadian territory, or that the Russians might not realize such haste and lavishness were prompted only by a dying budget.

Canadians were annoyed and slightly worried by the urgency of these preparations. Some Americans were annoyed, on their side, because Ottawa wouldn’t just rubber-stamp the project and let it roll. But tempers cooled as soon as the thing was talked out. Canadians realized that Americans weren’t trying either to violate their sovereignty or to declare war on Russia. Americans realized that Canadians weren’t obstructing mutual defense, just trying to find the best way of going about it.

Today harmony is complete among all concerned, though there is still a variance of opinion as to the best means of Arctic defense. The argument is proceeding without heat.

Some, particularly in Washington, would like to see our weather stations “stiffened” by immediate installation of radar—a five-year program which, if we used the newest equipment, would cost $350 millions. Some go farther, urge that we lay down air strips big enough for B-29’s, generally

develop a chain of large-scale permanent military bases of which the Crimson Route stations at Frobisher Bay, Chimo and Southampton Island could be the nucleus.

Others, including most Canadians, feel that this policy would defeat itself. Put permanent bases there now, they argue, and you merely hand over a lot of valuable facilities to an invader. Nothing would be simpler, in their view, than a paratroop attack which would seize all our elaborate, remote bases and convert them overnight from a negligible protection to a potent threat.

Instead of air strips and permanent radar stations, they want a mobile system—radar that can be taken anywhere by glider, fighter planes that can land on the ice. They’d meet any invader with a “scorched ice” defense, make him find his way across an empty waste that we know and he doesn’t.

Working Blueprint

This argument won’t have to be settled for years yet. On the program for the immediate future there is complete agreement in principle, near agreement even on detail:

Canada’s permanent combat force will consist wholly of men trained and equipped for Arctic warfare. They will be air portable — not all paratroops, but all geared to be moved by plane or glider.

They will be trained in combined operations as never before. Army and Air Force are already working almost as a unit, as they did on Musk-Ox. The Navy is now putting a base at Churchill too. Meanwhile the American Navy’s “Operation Frostbite,” by the carrier Midway last March, proved that carriers can operate in Arctic waters and that sea-based planes are able to carry a large share of the polar patrol.

Hemispheric defense means that Canadian forces will have to be integrated with American. Already there’s agreement in principle on the method of sharing the task.

Permanent bases in Canadian territory will be Canadian, not joint. Churchill’s training and research centre will be open to as many Americans as want to come—but it will be our base. Operational stations will be under Canadian command and have at least 51% Canadian personnel, no matter how much of their costly gear might be supplied by the United States.

Weapons and equipment will have to be interchangeable, even if not identical. Since our forces must also work with the British, this implies a much greater standardization of British and American ordnance. Negotiations to this end are proceeding. There are formidable difficulties, both technical and economic, but a strong effort is being made to overcome them.

All these things will take time, but that doesn’t unduly worry the planners of Arctic defense.

They still hope World War III will never come at all. If it should come, except for the long-shot possibility of an “inadvertent” war in the jockeying and tough talk now going on, they’re convinced no major war will break out for at least a dozen years and probably longer.

For defense against that far-off peril we need, as a backstop to political effort, two things—training and research. Especially the latter.

We need to know how to fly jet fighters in subzero weather, land them on the ice, locate secret caches of supplies. We need to develop a new kind of anti-aircraft fire that will knock down guided missiles at supersonic

speeds. That means target-seeking rockets of our own—and we must know materials and techniques for using them in Arctic weather. We must be able to set up, by air, anti-aircraft and antirocket batteries hundreds of miles from a permanent base, and supply and reinforce them by parachute.

If we learn these things, strategists won’t worry about permanent bases, elaborate installations, pickets of rocket guns. We could, they say, put those in fast enough if the need arose. What

we couldn’t acquire overnight would be the trained personnel, the basic research, the knowledge of how men can live, move and fight inside the Arctic Circle.

In the years of peace they hope to develop all that. And they are comforted by the knowledge that if peace should last a thousand years, not a pennyworth of their work will be wasted. The metals we forge for an Arctic sword and shield will make an Arctic plowshare. +