Operation Washtub: Stay-Behind Agents After Soviet Invasion of Alaska

1954 letter seeking background on Valdez, Alaska, amateur radio operator.

1954 letter seeking background on Valdez, Alaska, amateur radio operator.

A recent batch of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by
GovernmentAttic.org paints a fascinating picture of U.S. Government plans to deal with the possibility of a Soviet invasion of Alaska in the 1950’s. The 701 pages of formerly secret documents are available at this link.

The program, code named Operation Washtub, was put into place, and agents were trained as detailed in many of the documents. The plan was to have in place “stay-behind” agents who would be recruited and trained in peacetime and paid a stipend of $3000 per year to remain on standby. At such time as Alaska fell to Soviet invaders, they would provide intelligence, engage in covert activities, and aid downed U.S. airmen.

Rather extensive equipment was assigned to the agents, including a “Gibson-Girl” type radio transmitter-receiver.

Interestingly, one potential agent was an Amateur Radio operator. It appears that the author was referring to a particular individual, although there doesn’t seem to be any indication that this particular individual was ever recruited. But he does seem like a quintisential resident of the last frontier:

An example of a typical person to be one of the principals is a professional photographer in Anchorage; he has only one arm and it is felt that he would not benefit the enemy in any labor battalion; he is an amateur radio operator; he is a professional photographer; he is licensed as a hunting or fishing guide, and well versed in the art of survival; he is a pilot of a small aircraft; he is reasonably intelligent, particularly crafty, and possessed of sufficient physical courage as is indicated by his offer to guide a party which was to have hunted Kodiak bear armed only with bow and arrow. If such an individual were chosen it is believed that he would be eminently satisfactory as a principal.

A one-armed ham is one thing, but this one was apparently proficient with archery!

At least one ham was, however, recruited. The last page of the 701 pages of FOIA documents are the request for a background check of the manager of a Valdez hotel. His name is redacted in the document (probably because he was born after about 1914 and might be a living person), but the document does alert the FBI that this person is a Ham radio operator.

Surely there weren’t very many one-armed Anchorage photographers who were also hams and archers. And surely there weren’t very many hotel managers in Valdez who were hams. It would be interesting to follow up on these gentlemen and learn more about their role in the Cold War. If you have any information as to their identities, I’d appreciate hearing from you.


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