Category Archives: Fort Missoula

The history of the frontier military post Fort Missoula from its founding in 1877 to the present

Leak of the Victory Program. Patriotism, Treason or Subterfuge?

The mystery of the Montana Senator who revealed America’s top-secret war plan just days before Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor threw an unprepared United States into the global conflict of World War II. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that America’s top-secret war plan had been compromised just three days before. On December 4, 1941, Americans awoke to read of “F.D.R.’s WAR PLANS!” on the front pages of the Chicago Daily Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald. The article revealed the existence of the Victory Program, America’s blueprint to defeat Nazi Germany and Japan, described by a presidential historian as, “one of the most remarkable documents of American history.”

The newspaper article revealed a policy where the United States would concentrate on defeating Germany before Japan, with a planned invasion of Europe in 1943. The Victory Program called for building an army of ten million men and doubling America’s industrial production in just two years in order to manufacture the estimated 68,000 aircraft and 4,000 ships that would be needed to win the war. It also contained a detailed target list for destroying the German economy from the air. The leak of the Victory Program set off an uproar in Washington. German diplomats cabled the details to Berlin while the F.B.I. scrambled to apprehend the culprit who had leaked the top-secret plan. The Assistant Secretary of War declared, “There’s blood on the fingers of the man who leaked this information.”

The man who revealed the plan to reporter Chesly Manly was U.S. Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, who had been given the document the day before by an unidentified captain in the Army Air Corps. The Senator read the document with dismay, appalled by the plan commissioned by President Roosevelt. A prominent isolationist, Wheeler was convinced that the President had been lying to Congress regarding his preparations for war, and he decided that the American people deserved to know of Roosevelt’s deceit, (although Wheeler successfully concealed his own role in the leak for more than 20 years).

The attack on Pearl Harbor, followed by Hitler’s declaration of war on December 11, ended Wheeler’s opposition to the war, but many questions remain about how the top-secret plan became public knowledge at a critical juncture of American history.

  • What motivated the mysterious Army Air Corps captain who risked his career and liberty to provide the top-secret plan to Senator Wheeler?
  • Why did a former British spymaster claim (more than 30 years later) that he had duped Wheeler into releasing a “sanitized” version of the plan?
  • Why did the F.B.I. abandon their investigation after it seemed to lead them to the highest levels of the U.S. military?
  • Why would Col. Albert Wedemeyer, chief planner of the Victory Program and the D-Day invasion, state that “I have always been convinced… that President Roosevelt authorized it. I can’t conceive of anyone else… having the nerve to release that document.”

Gary Glynn will lead a discussion of the unsolved mystery of how the Victory Program, America’s biggest secret, became a front page story at a critical moment in American history. Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, Tuesday, May 15 2012 at 7:00 p.m.


Changes at Fort Missoula

Bert Fraser, commander of the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s Fort Missoula Detention Center, announced that the camp would be formally closed during the spring of 1944. Hundreds of Italian detainees and 293 Japanese had been paroled on work release, and most of the 310 Italians still interned in the camp left town by train on April 3, 1944, although some remained behind to help close the facility. One hundred recently arrived German civilians were sent to work for the Forest Service, while most of the remaining Japanese detainees were sent to camps in the South.

Community leaders worried that the loss of jobs from the detention camp would hurt the local economy, but Rep. Mike Mansfield managed to pull some strings and soon notified the local Chamber of Commerce that Fort Missoula would be turned back over to the Army to be used as a detention camp for medium-security military prisoners.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service formally transferred Fort Missoula to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army in July 1944, and the Fort Missoula camp was renamed the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Northwestern Branch. Two thousand medium-security disciplinary prisoners were transported by rail from Leavenworth, Kansas to Missoula during the late summer of 1944. Col. Alexander M. Weyand commanded 535 Military Policemen and 130 civilian employees at the camp. (There were only 62 civilian and Border Patrol guards at the Alien Detention Center.)

The larger number of guards were needed. The army prisoners presented authorities in Missoula with far more problems than the Italian and Japanese detainees who had been housed there for the past several years, and who had made few escape attempts. Umberto Benedetti explained that, “no one really wanted to escape because they were treated very well by the people of Missoula.”

The American prisoners quickly demonstrated that the Fort Missoula facility was not totally secure. During the first week of October eight prisoners being held for desertion and for being absent without leave (AWOL) escaped from the camp, including one who was described as particularly dangerous. One of these escapees burglarized the nearby house of rancher David Maclay and got away with a considerable amount of cash. He was apprehended in Iowa six weeks later and given a six-year sentence for the escape and theft. Four more prisoners escaped in a hail of gunfire on October 16, 1944, although one was later recaptured at Dixon. Three days later a prisoner was killed, another wounded, and a third recaptured during an escape attempt. Ten prisoners escaped from Fort Missoula on November 27, although three were recaptured near Noxon, and six were caught near Polson after a 90-mile-an-hour car chase in which police fired repeatedly at the fleeing car. The last escapee was captured in Missoula a few days later. At the request of irate citizens, a siren was installed at Fort Missoula to warn residents when an escape attempt was underway.

The siren blew frequently, but didn’t stop the escapes. Three more men got away during the first week of December after scaling the fence while guards fired at them. Two of these men were captured near Lolo, and the other one, who had escaped once before, was apprehended near St. Ignatius. Eight of the recaptured prisoners were sentenced to an average of 17 years behind bars.


Just released! Montana’s Home Front During World War II, 2nd Ed.

Montana's Home Front During World War IIGet Your Copy of

Montana’s Home Front During World War II, 2nd Edition

  Look for it in a bookstore near you!

Published by Big Elk Books 2012
ebook versions available at and Barnes & Noble

This compelling account of Montana’s contribution to the war effort covers personal stories, local politics, industry, agriculture, education, sports, and social life during the upheaval of a world-wide conflict. Montana’s Home Front During World War II is the tale of ordinary citizens who came together to support their sons and daughters overseas, and the tens of thousands of residents who left the Treasure State to serve their country in the military and defense plants. Those who remained planted Victory Gardens, purchased record amounts of war bonds, and endured the hardships brought about by war-time shortages and rationing. This highly-readable account is the most comprehensive look at Montana during the early 1940s, and the tremendous sacrifices made by ordinary people to support their country in time of war. Originally published in 1994, this revised edition of the classic Montana’s Home Front During World War IIincludes many rare and previously unpublished photographs.


  • The training of the First Special Service Force “Devil’s Brigade” at Fort Harrison.

  • The construction of Malmstrom Air Force Base and the Great Falls based Lend-Lease operation to aid the Soviet Union.

  • The experience of hundreds of Italian and Japanese civilians who languished behind barbed wire at the Fort Missoula Detention Center.

  • The hellish fighting encountered in the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines by the 163rd Infantry Regiment (Montana National Guard).

  • The terrors of night combat as the crew of the USS Helena battled Japanese ships in the treacherous waters near Guadalcanal.

Look inside the book.

Was Senator B.K. Wheeler duped into revealing America’s top-secret war plan, the Victory Program, just days before Pearl Harbor? Did the Soviets run a nationwide spy ring from an Air Force Base in Montana? The answers to these and many other questions are answered in Montana’s Home Front During World War II 2nd ed. Gary Glynn examines in detail the impact of the Second World War on Montana politics, industry, agriculture, education, sports, and crime.

Train with the Canadian-American commandos of the First Special Service Force “the Devil’s Brigade” as they become a superb fighting unit at Fort Harrison. Languish behind barbed wire at the Fort Missoula Detention Center with hundreds of Italian and Japanese civilians. Pick sugar beets alongside German prisoners of war and American college students from Sidney to Stevensville.

Fight alongside the men of the 163rd Infantry Regiment (Montana National Guard) in the hellish jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines, at Sanananda, Aitape, Wakde, Jolo and Zamboanga. Experience the terrors of night combat as the crew of the USS Helena battle Japanese ships near Cape Esperance and Guadalcanal. Cheer as the 5th Marines raise the USS Missoula’s flag over Iwo Jima.

Far from the famous World War II battlefields of European theater and the Pacific, many ordinary Montanans made tremendous sacrifices to support the war effort. Tens of thousands of residents left the Treasure State to serve their country or work in defense plants. Those who remained purchased record numbers of war bonds, planted Victory Gardens, and endured the hardships brought about by war-time shortages and rationing. Available in print and ebook formats.