Commonwealth and US Operation names question

Discussion in 'General' started by belasar, Jan 16, 2014.

  1. belasar

    belasar Junior Member

    One of the things that I have noticed in studying the Second World War, and brought to the fore in my time on this forum, there seems to be a distinct difference in how historically American's and their Commonwealth counterparts look back upon how the name their battles.

    So many Commonwealth battles are well known by their Operational names (Goodwood, Crusader, BattleAxe) while American battles are generally know by their location (Tarawa, Hurtgen Forest, Okinawa). US Operations had code names but are used far less often as a short hand for the battle.

    In theory with a larger population and more ground armies deployed the US should have more "Operations" to have to name and perhaps greater need for a short hand to differentiate between so many different battles, yet they seem to be shunned in most histories of US Operations.

    So the question is why the difference?
  2. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Good point. 'Ardennnes Forest' and 'salient' seem to have been a bit difficult for them too so they had to say 'bulge' which sounds so very un-military to me.

    Something that puzzles me is why modern U.S. 'code' names simply aren't but are completely obvious so provide no security at all. Who thought up 'Desert Storm' or 'Iraqi Freedom' ? The British used 'Op Telic' which seems designed for security rather than publicity.
  3. belasar

    belasar Junior Member

    Most modern American operation names seem to be for public relation reasons rather than security.

    Generally speaking defensive battles do not get official operational names like First El Alamein did not but the second had several covering different phases of the battle.

    An example of the difference is Patton's battle for Metz, a protracted assault on a specific point that as far as I can tell had no official operational name or Hurtgen Forest which did have one (Operation Queen) but is largely forgotten yet the various assaults on and around Caen do have names for each phase/attempt.

    Certainly there is far less formality within the American military, but is this the only reason?
  4. mapshooter

    mapshooter Senior Member

    In WW2 UK defensive actions seem generally to have place names, eg Alamein, Imphal-Kohima. Modern UK codenames come from a central random list. I suspect this was the case in WW2 perhaps with blocks from the list issued to overseas commands. Modern NATO practice is that single words are used for operations, two words are used for exercises.
  5. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    I have seen the breakout at St Lo called "St Lo" and "Cobra" about equally. But, as you are pointing out, that seems to be an exception.
  6. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    It might go back to the First World War. Most combat on the Western Front took place in a small geographical area, so that the same places were fought over multiple times. Thus you had "First Ypres," "Second Ypres," etc. It got so confusing that after the war the British Army had to form a committee to settle on the names of the different battles. Many of the names they chose were never widely known to the British public and are largely forgotten today. The Nomenclature Committee failed, but operational names (British ones were very distinct and easy to remember) can be used as a convenient handle to impose some kind of dramatic order on the never-ending combat characteristic of modern war. However, the British did name many WWII battles after geographic locations: Alamein, Tobruk, Imphal-Kohima, the River Plate,

    We fought for only a year on the Western Front in WWI and we experienced only a few big battles, all of which had simple names and were easy to recall. By contrast, a great many battles in Vietnam were known at least to the military by code names, or such oh-so-easy tags as "Spring Counteroffensive, Second Phase," etc. Partly for this reason, only a very Vietnam battles (Hue, Hamburger Hill, Ia Drang) are actually remembered by the American public.
    belasar likes this.
  7. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I fear it might be a Royal Navy thing - can't think of much before DYNAMO, and Combined Ops went in for them big time.
    I have got the Staff section of the Field Service Pocket Book somewhere, so depending on its date, it might tell us something?
    As the BEF had Plan D, 1940 may be the watershed.
  8. tmac

    tmac Senior Member Patron

    In his 1984 book Overlord, about D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, author Max Hastings seemed to discern some deep cultural significance in the choice of operational names.

    Talking about the British Operation Epsom and Operation Goodwood and the U.S. Operation Cobra, he wrote: 'It was symbolic of the contrasting approaches to war by the two principal allies in Normandy that the British codenamed their greatest efforts after race meetings while the Americans adopted a symbol of deadly killing power.'

    I quite like Hastings and his books. But in this case, I think he was being just a little too clever.
  9. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Old Hickory Recon

    Operation Junction City. The name alone will perk your interest beyond all imagination.
  10. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code

    There are some reasons why so many British battles are named after their code names and so many american by geographic region.

    1. Until the second front was opened there were limits to the size of the American forces that could be deployed in Europe. There could be no "American" battles, but operations mounted by the forces of the United Nations. Operations were planned under the code-names agreed by the Combined (British and US) Joint Chiefs of staff, and given names such as Sledgehammer, Bolero, Gymnast, Pointblank, Torch, Husky and Overlord. . Op market Garden was a 1st Allied airborne operation. .

    2. The US and British army tended to operate at different rhythm or tempo. From mid WW2 the British recipe for success involved a series of massive blows, at Corps level separated by operational pauses. The US Army preferred to apply continuous pressure through a series of smaller scale attacks. It makes sense for the British attacks on Caen to be known by the names of the Corps level attacks such as "Perch" Epsom,"Charnwood" & Goodwood". The US attacks on Sr Lo followed a different pattern. Montgomery's 21 AG plan for the Rhine was a formal attack under the codeword OP Varsity. Patton crossed via a coup de main..

    3. The ;largest single battle fought by the US Army in NW Europe was the battle of the Bulge. This did have a code word, but that given by the side on the attack: "Wacht am Rein"

    This is a WW2 phenomena. The British attacks on the Western Front in WW1 are known by whatever code words were associated with them. Some WW1 battles are known by their code words. The different phases of the 1918 German Spring offensive, the "Kaiserschlacht" are sometimes known by their german Code words "Michel" "Georgette" "Blucher." But most of the battles are known by their geographical region, so Op Gericht is usually better known as "Verdun."
  11. idler

    idler GeneralList

    One of the WW1 forums concluded that there weren't any operational codenames used by the British during the Great War. The closest they got was the not-very-cryptic Operation ZO for Zeebrugge/Ostend; RN again.

    It's worth remembering that the codenames were applied to plans/orders, not battles per se. Perhaps they came of age as shorthand when staffs were simultaneously preparing a number of plans for different circumstances. This is particularly true in the context of Combined Operations HQ who were churning them out nineteen to the dozen in the early years. Formation war diaries can contain references to or orders for
    named operations that never got off the ground - literally in the case of 1 Abn Div's infamous series of cancelled operations.
    The rarity of US codenames could be partially down to that old chestnut the 'broad front' strategy. If you're attacking everywhere all the time, it's an advance to contact on a grand scale, not a series of deliberate attacks.
  12. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Actually, the US Army frequently used code names for major operations, particularly in NW Europe: COBRA, QUEEN, UNDERTONE, LUMBERJACK, etc. These names just did not stick in the imaginations of the troops or the newspaper-reading public, and US Army battle honors did not use them either.
  13. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    The actual second front started with the Sicilian landings of July 10th '43 with the joint Brit /US landings code named Husky then we went all geographical with Primisole bridge Catania -

    Palermo - Messina then into Italy with a mix of code and geographic such as Cassino 1-2-3- Salerno(?) - Sangro - Anzio(?) - 0rtona (?) until Diadem (Cassino 4 ) - Gothic Line( Olive) …..altogether a

    real mess...

  14. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Well, there is an relevant difference between the 1940 and 1944 editions of Field Service Pocket Book, Pamphlet No.1 Glossary of Military Terms: the 1944 edition contains definitions for code name, code sign and code word; the 1940 edition doesn't. Code word is defined as: A pre-arranged secret word used to convey instructions or information.

    However, Pamphlet No.4 Appreciations, Orders, Messages, and Intercommunication, 1944 doesn't appear to say anything about their application to operations orders. Unsurprisingly, Pamphlet No.13 Notes for Staff officers, 1940 doesn't either.

    Staff Duties in the Field 1949: Chapter 5: Orders, Instructions and Appreciations is more explicit, saying that: "Code words may be used as names for plans, projects or operations or for designating geographical locations in conjunction with these", though it still stops short of referencing code names in the templates for orders.
  15. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake The Mayor of London's latest dress code


    My dear fellow, you are of course correct as the Italian campaign was the landing on the mainland of Europe by the Western Allies - the second front. However, as far as the US Joint Chiefs of staffs were concerned, when they referred to the Second front them mean an invasion of Europe somewhere they could deploy their 70 division army - and that was never going to be Italy! ;)

    The OP has raised an interesting point. The Sicilian and Italian campaign does illustyrate how operations might be seen. Op Husky was a set piece combined operation, as were the other landings , Operations Baytown, Avalanche, and Shingle Even the improvised landing at Taranto is Op Slapstick (and the South of France had two code names Anvil and Dragoon). Several commentators have remarked about the lack of planning in the Italian campaign. Carlo d'Este claims that Montgomery was over confident after the initial landing at Husky and advamnce on too broad a front. The operations in Sep- Dec 1943 were conducted as an advance against rear guards - until the Winter line.

    The rather disjointed operations in "1st battle of Monte Cassino" can barely be discerned as a co-ordinated operation. the NZ Corps operatiosn were Ops Avenger and Dickens while the 4th battle is quite well known as "Op Diadem" . The fighting on the Adriatic coast must have had a series of code names, but the two months of fighting tends to be the battle of the Sangro and then the Moro Rivers.
  16. idler

    idler GeneralList

    There is now some evidence for the RN leading the way with code names for operations:

    While the BEF were tinkering with their suggestively-named Plan D[yle] and Plan E[scaut] during the Phoney War, the RN had developed Operation ROYAL MARINE. Although it's implementation was actually down to the RM, it was less obvious that it called for the mining of German rivers by floating mines down their tributaries. This was actually cvarried out during May 1940, plus additional aerial mining by the RAF. Subsequent RN operations in the theatre are fairly well known: DYNAMO, CYCLE and AERIAL.

    If that's not enough, further north, the army were working on Plan R.4 for the occupation of Narvik should the Germans react to the RN's Operation WILFRED, the pre-emptive mining of neutral Norwegian waters. Subsequent proposed and actual landing operations in Norway were probably Navy-named: RUPERT, AVONMOUTH, MAURICE / BOOTS / HAMMER / HAMMER 2, PRIMROSE, HENRY, SICKLE and SCISSORS; though the military components often shared the names (e.g. MAURICEFORCE, SICKLEFORCE) so it is arguable which came first.
  17. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Well of course anything Monty did was wrong according to DeEste - the Sicilian advance MIGHT have been a broad front had Pattpn joined Monty at Catania instead of scuttling off to Palermo….

  18. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Moving east, Operation COMPASS was the earliest Army op that sprung to mind. The official History of the Second World War: The Mediterranean and Middle East: Volume I: The Early Successes Against Italy (to May 1941) has a convenient appendix of operational code names. There are only 7 British/Commonwealth ones, and all of the 6 that aren't COMPASS are for naval ops from convoys to a plan for an invasion of Pantellaria.

    There is nothing in the text as to why it was named. It does say that alternative courses of action were considered and the execution of COMPASS was conditional on things like reinforcements. As it was probably just one of a number of plans, the use of codenames as secure shorthand makes sense.
  19. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    North Africa is interesting as well:

    Compass, Brevity, Battleaxe and Crusader are well known in the Western Desert, and even Scorcher for the compromised German airborne attack on Crete. It can't be that common for a code word to be applied to an enemy attack!

    But in 1942, the operations are normally given geographical names, I guess because the Germans had the initiative.

    As for Normandy operation names, are we sure that is not just a historiography thing? It also shows that 21Army Group (both the US and British Commonwealth parts) retained the initiative and mostly operated within a tightly gripped operational plan.


  20. idler

    idler GeneralList

    It makes sense as you don't 'plan' to be attacked in quite the same way that you would plan to attack. Of course, planned withdrawals were also deliberate operations: e.g. Ops BERLIN (Arnhem) and ANISEED (Villers-Bocage).

    SCORCHER though, I think, was our operation to occupy and defend Crete in response to the German attack/threat, rather than our name for their op?

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