To understand why Lt Col. James Dudley Wilmeth would be "ordered to London for an orientation course", we turned to a website project that began in November 2000 for the sole purpose of preserving and documenting the story of 'Combined Operations' during World War II. Knowing more about the reason for Mountbatten's 'Orientation Course', and its purpose, helped us to understand why Wilmeth was ordered to attend, and then, why Wilmeth was ordered to take up his successive duty postings back in the USA.
Our initial knowledge about the posting of Lt Col. James Dudley Wilmeth to London in 1942, came from one skeleton overview of his life story that appeared in 'The Austin Statesman', which was later renamed 'The Austin American-Statesman'. This newspaper in Austin, Texas reported that: "Wilmeth was ordered to London for an orientation course in Admiral Louis Mountbatten's office of combined operations in the summer of 1942."
Before we explain why Wilmeth attended Mountbatten's Orientation Course in 1942, we need to explain the reason why the man who was known as Prince Louis of Battenberg, and in 1917 assumed the name of Mountbatten, took over the command of Combined Operations. Louis Mountbatten was born on June 25, 1900, becoming the youngest son of Prince Louis of Battenberg.
In 1914, Prince Louis became Admiral of the British Fleet and its First Sea Lord. In 1941, under the name of Mountbatten he was in the USA waiting to take command of a ship that was undergoing repairs at Norfolk, Virginia. That is when Winston Churchill signaled him to return to London.
At a meeting held at the official country residence of the British Prime Minister called 'Chequers', which is located just outside London, Churchill gave Mountbatten a new assignment. On October 27, 1941, Mountbatten was told to replace Admiral Sir Roger Keyes who was at that time in command of Combined Operations. Churchill had created this Operation on June 4, 1940, in the wake of the disastrous British military retreat from Dunkirk.
Winston Churchill ordered the British Army, Navy and Air Force Chiefs of Staff to cooperate with each other under the Combined Operations Command of Admiral Sir Roger Keyes. This project limped off the ground in a disorganized manner, and that is why Churchill got rid of Keyes and replaced him with Mountbatten.
Having just received his new Command in late October 1941 and knowing that he could not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor by just picking up where Keyes had left off, Mountbatten had to first assess what he was expected to accomplish - before he could issue new directives to subordinates for their implementation.
Mountbatten was to be "technical adviser on all aspects of, and at all stages in, the planning and training for Combined Operations" specifically coordinating inter-service training; running the UK Combined Operations Training Establishments; advising on tactical and technical research and development; devising the special craft needed "for all forms of Combined Operations varying from small raids to a full-scale invasion of the Continent."
Because Keyes had not created an organization with planning, signals, and training staff, Mountbatten had to create it. Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ) was located in a small building not far from 10 Downing Street in Whitehall, while the actual training of troops was accomplished within the boundaries of a huge slice of northwestern Scotland, well away from the prying eyes of spies, and generally protected from bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe.
For the Allied Forces to defeat Adolph Hitler's Nazi troops, they had to first cross the English Channel and gain a foothold on the European Continent. But Wilmeth was an Army man who spent his time with heavy armor. How was this U.S. Army Lt. Col. supposed to contribute to the defeat of Adolph Hitler? During the remaining months of 1942, after Wilmeth returned to the USA from England, the answer to that question became readily apparent.
He had gone to London in "the Summer of 1942", but while we do not know the exact month, we do know that in the Northern Hemisphere, "the Summer months" are comprised of June, July and August. If Wilmeth returned to the USA in the Autumn of that same year, he would have September, October, November and December to carry out his new mission. This is what that same 1956 Austin newspaper article tells us about where Lt. Col. Wilmeth went, and what he did: "From London he was ordered to Camp Carrabelle, Florida, and Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, to serve on the staff at the amphibious training centers at the posts."
Those two locations were not next door each other; they are approximately one thousand and thirty plus miles apart. It should also be noted that in January 1943, Camp Carrabelle was renamed Camp Gordon Johnston. This means that Wilmeth was indeed sent to Camp Carrabelle in 1942, before it was renamed. What he did at Camp Carrabelle is not explained in the 1956 newspaper article.
What we do know is that after Wilmeth's visit during 1942, the Amphibious Training Center at Camp Carrabelle which had been closed prior to his visit, was reopened in 1943 under the name of Camp Gordon Johnson. That camp was then used as the training station for American amphibious landings on D-Day. That took place on June 6, 1944 when the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach in France. Camp Edwards in Massachusetts was used to train both anti-aircraft and amphibious units until mid-1944, after which its amphibious training center was relocated to Camp Gordon Johnson in Florida.
These 1942 visits by Wilmeth took place immediately after Mountbatten's Orientation Course in London. Mountbatten explained in the Forward to the 1950 book called 'Combined Operations; The Official Story of The Commandos', what he expected from people he orientated to his new approach for Combined Operations:
"We cannot win this war by bombing and blockade alone: it can be won only when our armies have taken physical possession. If we look at the map, we find that there is no place where United States or British troops can land to fight the enemy without the probability of severe opposition. They can only be taken there in force by a seaborne expedition with air support. They cannot land unless, in fact, combined operations are carried out. Amphibious warfare, therefore, will play an even greater part in the coming year than it has in the past."
That was Wilmeth's reason for going first to London for instructions, and then to Florida and Massachusetts where he put those instructions into action. However, it seems that he was only given the remaining months of 1942 to carry them out. Because in February 1943, Wilmeth was made Commanding Officer of an armored battalion of the 20th Armored Division. It was activated the following month on March 15, 1943, at Camp Campbell in Kentucky. Although the 20th Armored Division did not go into combat until April of 1945, elements of the 20th Armored participated in the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp located in southern Germany.
The military career of James Dudley Wilmeth is now beginning to take on the characteristics of a man who starts things up; a man who applies first plans to new ventures that others will then pick-up and run with. In business he would be called an entrepreneur; a person who takes an idea and puts that idea into practice so that a manager can take over day-to-day operations. The idea-to-application man then moves on to something else.
But in this narrative, Wilmeth was still a team player. He was not the originator of an idea, but one of several people who were assigned by the originator of the idea to put individual parts of it into operation. This is what Wilmeth began to do in his Army career. All military personnel carry out orders given to them by superior officers, but Wilmeth's military career took an unusual turn when he was reassigned from "just following orders" to carrying out military instructions by implementing aspects of strategic planning and turning ideas into practical application.
When Wilmeth's military career took that unusual turn, is not clear. Nor is it clear who selected him to become part of such a team. Obviously he was vetted first and then given his assignment which was low profile enough not to attract too much unwanted attention.
As 'Mister Start-Up', his assignments were not long term, and his activities can be explained away and glossed over by obfuscation and misdirection. However, the indications are that by 1944, Wilmeth was being groomed as an advance agent who was silently representing the geopolitical interests of the United States of America. He was no longer just an ordinary military fighting man, although he was still a member of the U.S. Army.
Next: (Second Volume in this series): Our man in Moscow ....
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