Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Operation "Overboard"

Diplomats were not the only ones to fall victim to the pen of an anonymous parodist in the mid-1940s. Military officials were casualties too. A mimeograph identified as draft 5432 and 1/2, found among the William Henry Baumer papers, telegraphs its jest with the national-security classification US Stupid/British Most Stupid.

The document, dated May 32, 1944, lays out the plan for Operation "Overboard." It establishes, in military precision, a series of logical impossibilities designed to prevent any action whatsoever. For starters, it states that "in the interests of security this operation should not be divulged to any person inside Norfolk House and should not be taken outside Norfolk House." Norfolk House, of course, is where the Allied military brass had their offices.

"Overboard" had many objectives, among them to "re-establish the N.A.A.F.I. firmly on the continent of Europe." N.A.A.F.I., the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, operated recreational facilities for the British Armed Forces. Another major object was "to assist the Russians and prevent the situation deteriorating so much that the Russians find themselves in Berlin unprotected by the Allies."

Paralysis cycles recursively through the plan. For example, the cardinal principle for the assault was "that any length of beach is too short to take the number of vehicles belonging to the number of divisions that will be necessary to assault such a length of beach," thus concluding, "Unless immediate steps are taken to construct sufficient beaches in this country which can be towed across the channel already assaulted no assault can take place."

The army, navy and air forces all take hits in the plan, which ultimately determines that the only suitable areas for assault are the Zuyder Zee, Lake Constance, or Holy Island. They meet the criteria of not including a port "to avoid any trouble over port capacities" and not having a hinterland to prevent "any trouble over subsequent deployment."

Annexure 6 to Appendix HHH of the document lists the planning data used, including a list of planners that could almost be sung to the tune "The Twelve Days of Christmas": "1 planner working, 2 planners chatting, 3 planners (2 Naval) arguing,” et cetera. It ends on a note that sounds amazingly modern, but undercuts the fundamental notion of war: "All data is subject to Naval, Military and Air Force advice and no references are made or harm meant to any living thing."

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