Sea of Okhotsk

Soviet Far East as of 1985-86.

Operation WATCHTOWER II was a proposed multi-division amphibious raid against the Soviet Far East. The operation was never approved and was eventually canceled after the failure of Operation ADVENT CROWN, the 1986 American counteroffensive.


Operation WATCHTOWER II was proposed and developed at Headquarters Marine Corps after its reconstitution and relocation to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, following the initial Soviet nuclear strike. Once HQMC had acquired office space and sorted out other administrative details, several efforts were begun in parallel.

The most visible result of these efforts was the return of III Marine Amphibious Force, consisting of the the Third Marine Division, First Marine Air Wing, and Third Force Service Support Group, to the Continental United States (CONUS). Operation CERTAIN TRUMPET was executed from 4 December 1985—7 January 1986, resulting in the Marine Corps permanently leaving Okinawa after a 40-year presence.

Next on the HQMC priority list was offensive employment of the Marine Corps. General Gray's view was that the Army and the National Guard were best employed to eject Communist forces from United States and Canadian soil; the Marine Corps was best suited to an offensive expeditionary mission. Gray saw expeditionary warfare as giving the following advantages:

  • It would force the enemy to react to American moves, thus giving US and Canadian forces a chance to regain strategic and operational initiative;
  • It would allow US forces to damage key elements of the enemy's economy and ability to project military force into the North American theater;
  • It would warn the Soviet Union that its homeland was at risk, and possibly force withdrawal of forces from America;
  • It would warn Soviet allies that, if the USSR could not stop Marines from landing on its soil, they were at far greater risk.

To this end, several operations were proposed:

  • Operation DAWN THUNDER envisioned a single-division raid on the Kola Peninsula to damage the Red Banner Northern Fleet. This was later executed by the Sixth Marine Division in May, 1987.
  • Operation SENTINEL VAULT envisioned a raid on Veracruz to destroy oil production, refining, storage, & transportation infrastructure in the region.
  • Operation VALIANT SCRIBE proposed an amphibious landing in Ensenada to destroy those elements of the Soviet Eastern Pacific Squadron that had survived the Battle of Baja on D-Day.

Operation WATCHTOWER II was the most ambitious of these; others ithe overall concept of operations was to project a three Marine Division raid onto Russian soil—two would land at Vladivostok, home of the Soviet Pacific Fleet; the last division would land at Petropavlovsk, home of the Pacific Fleet ballistic missile submarine force. The goal of WATCHTOWER II was to cripple the Soviet Pacific Fleet by destroying its port facilities and any ships in port (although one option called for bringing a couple of US Navy prize crews along to capture any high-value ships in port).

The First, Third, and Fifth Marine Divisions were proposed for this mission; all three were on the West Coast of the United States and (arguably) free for immediate deployment once Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties were declared secure from enemy guerrilla activity.

Debate and CancellationEdit

Discussion of WATCHTOWER II within the Joint Chiefs was acrimonious. The Chief of Staff of the Army protested that three divisions would require more support than the US could deliver to such a remote location; indeed, he did not believe that there was sufficient sealift capable of supporting such an expedition. The senior National Guard Adjutant General from Occupied America (General Fredericks of Oklahoma), who participated as a non-voting observer, noted that three divisions was a sizable portion of the total ground combat power of the United States, and that losses on a foreign shore would only be made good at the expense of the buildup then getting started. The Air Force Chief of Staff, however, was cautiously supportive; he believed that a bridgehead on Russian soil might be supported by the Military Airlift Command, and that the operation could be coordinated with a surge of Strategic Air Command's EASTERN EXPRESS operations. The Chief of Naval Operations sided with the Army; he felt that the main mission of the United States Navy at that point of the war was "maintaining connectivity" with America's allies and resource suppliers, not seeking to force a battle on the enemy's doorstep. With professional opinion sharply divided, JCS Chairman Admiral Crowe declined to bring the plans for WATCHTOWER II to the Secretary of Defense for approval.

Following the failure of Operation ADVENT CROWN, General Gray renewed the call for executing WATCHTOWER II; his argument was expanded to include the need to relieve Alaska and Canada, and that destroying the major port complexes of the Soviet Far East would "cut off the entire Northern TVD from all logistical support." The Army Chief of Staff noted that the Northern TVD was nearly in that condition already, and that three divisions' worth of troops would not materially affect the Northern TVD logistics posture. During JCS deliberations, however, President Bush directed the Joint Chiefs to shelve major overseas offensive plans (those requiring more than one division of ground troops) and instead focus on liberating United States territory. Operation WATCHTOWER II was formally withdrawn from consideration on July 17th, 1986.