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War Plan Red – The Secret U.S. Strategy Once Devised Against Canada

War Plan Red – The Secret U.S. Strategy Once Devised Against Canada

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War Plan Red was a strategic military plan developed by the United States during the interwar period, envisioning a potential conflict with the British Empire, which at the time, encompassed numerous dominions and colonies across the globe.

This plan was part of a series of color-coded war plans, each one designed to prepare for hypothetical scenarios against different potential adversaries. The designation “Red” specifically referred to the British Empire, while the U.S. was coded as “Blue.” These plans were developed to ensure that the U.S. military could respond efficiently and effectively to a variety of international threats.

The preparation of War Plan Red began in the 1920s and continued into the 1930s, reflecting the tactical and strategic considerations of the period. It was never intended as an immediate operational plan but rather as a theoretical exercise to guide training and logistics.

The plan outlined various military strategies and troop movements in case hostilities broke out, detailing how the U.S. would mobilize forces, where they would be deployed, and how they would engage British forces. War Plan Red became obsolete and was never enacted, but it remains an interesting example of pre-World War II American military planning.

War Plan Red provides an insight into the geopolitical considerations of the early 20th century. It was a time when the possibility of conflict with the British Empire was not entirely unthinkable, even though the two nations shared a language, significant cultural ties, and a history of cooperation. The existence of such a plan highlights the level of preparedness and caution that nations took during a period marked by global tensions and the emergence of different military alliances.

Historical Context

In the decades following World War I, nations anticipated potential threats and alliances, which shaped military strategies worldwide. The United States, during this time, developed a series of contingency plans, coded by different colors, to prepare for various hypothetical conflict scenarios.

During the Interwar Period, which spans from 1919 to 1939, military strategists in the United States were influenced by the global shifts in power and the potential for future conflicts.

They crafted numerous war plans, each associated with a color that represented a potential adversary. War Plan Red was specifically designed with the British Empire in mind, reflecting the era’s practice of preparation for conflict with any great power, despite existing diplomatic relations.

The United States Department of War created these plans against a backdrop of emerging technologies, shifting alliances, and the desire to avoid unpreparedness should a conflict arise. The lessons from World War I led to a comprehensive approach to strategic planning.

The relationship between the United States and the British Empire was complex in the Interwar Period. Despite being allies in World War I, there was a level of mutual suspicion and rivalry, especially in terms of naval power and economic competition.

War Plan Red encapsulated these tensions, setting out a strategy for the U.S. to implement if hostilities ever broke out with Britain.

Though considered a hypothetical scenario, the plan underscored a period when no potential conflict could be entirely dismissed. It reflected a realistic, if cautious, stance by military leaders toward international relations during a time of significant geopolitical uncertainty.

Development of the Plan

The initial conception of War Plan Red can be traced back to the post-World War I era. The United States, recognizing the potential for future international conflicts, began drafting plans to prepare for various hypothetical scenarios.

War Plan Red outlined the United States’ strategy for a potential altercation with the British Empire.

The plan’s strategic objectives included the neutralization of British military forces and the defense of the American coastline. Preparations for securing advantageous positions and resources were also integral parts of the plan.

Military planners considered various theatres of operation, including Canada, which was codenamed “Crimson”.

Over the years, War Plan Red underwent multiple revisions and updates to ensure its relevance with the changing geopolitical landscape. Notably, in the mid-1930s, the plan received substantial amendments.

Military readiness and modern warfare tactics were incorporated to adapt to advancements in technology and new international power dynamics. These updates ensured that the United States remained prepared for a wide range of outcomes in a rapidly evolving world.

Plan Details

Under Phase Red, the United States foresaw a series of defensive measures and counterattacks in response to British aggression. The central focus was to ensure readiness for swift mobilization of forces.

War Plan Red mainly focused on Canada and identified critical points for attack including Halifax and Montreal, along with cutting the Canadian Pacific Railway. Military planners emphasized quick strikes to weaken Canadian defense before the British Commonwealth could provide reinforcements.

Naval Engagements were a cornerstone of War Plan Red. The U.S. Navy prepared to seize control of the seas, notably the Pacific and the Atlantic, with an aim to blockade the British Isles and cut off British naval forces from their overseas territories.

Starting Conditions

War Plan Red outlined a confrontational scenario initiated by tensions between the United States and the British Empire. The plan hypothesized a swift American annexation of strategically valuable infrastructure and border areas to ensure quick dominance in the Canadian theater.

  • Mobilization: Essential to the war’s commencement would include rapid mobilization of U.S. forces, particularly near the Canadian border.
  • Airfields: A prominent aspect involved establishing air superiority through updated and newly constructed airfields.

Progression of War

The advance into Canada theorized a multi-directional assault to capture key territories and dismantle Canadian defenses. Vital routes and economic hubs were considered critical for an effective progression of the war.

  • Invasion Pathways:
    • Main thrusts into Montreal and Halifax.
    • Subsequent pushes aimed at cutting off the head of the Canadian railway system.
  • Naval Engagements: The U.S. Navy’s role focused on establishing dominance in the North Atlantic to disrupt British resupply efforts.

Projected Challenges

In this hypothetical scenario, the U.S. would face several logistical and diplomatic challenges that could hinder military efforts.

  • Diplomacy: Neutrality of nearby nations and maintaining international relationships would prove complex.
  • Canadian Resistance: The anticipation of a robust Canadian defense strategy would necessitate comprehensive American military preparations.
  • Environment: Harsh climatic conditions, especially during the Canadian winter, would impose significant operational difficulties.

Declassification and Public Reaction

Declassification Date: 1974
The once-secret War Plan Red was publicly released over forty years after its inception. These documents revealed military strategies that would have been employed if the United States had entered into conflict with the British Empire, of which Canada was a part.

Media and Scholarly Analysis

Historians and media outlets have variously described War Plan Red as an “oddity” upon its release. The plan’s strategic contents provided a unique glimpse into interwar military planning but did not incite widespread concern or serious criticism due to its age and historical context.

Following the release, there was no significant impact on the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Canada.

The plan was largely viewed as a historical artifact rather than a contemporary threat or indication of future intentions.

Military Strategy Evolution

During the interwar period, the concept of preemptive military planning took a prominent role in the United States Department of War’s strategy development.

War Plan Red was one such strategy, developed in case of a potential conflict with the British Empire—a scenario that might seem unforeseeable now given the close relations the two countries share today.

Military strategists dedicated substantial effort to detail comprehensive approaches that defined not just a battlefield tactics but diplomatic and economic preparations.

War Plan Red holds a significant place in the annals of historical military studies as it exemplifies the interwar mindset and strategic foresight of the United States.

It remained classified until the 1970s, yet today, it is an often-cited example of how countries prepare for various hypothetical scenarios—highlighting that allies can also be perceived as potential adversaries in different contexts.

Educational Use

In academic settings, War Plan Red is frequently utilized as a case study to understand the complexity of geopolitical strategies and military preparations before the onset of modern international alliances.

its analysis helps students and historians discern the factors that inform the creation of such plans, including economic resources, technological capabilities, and intelligence assessments. The plan serves as a practical illustration of the depth and breadth of historical military strategy.

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