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For example, the American operation name for the assault on Okinawa was known as Operation Iceberg. However, Okinawa is a relatively hot area of Japan, and as far as I know, there were no icebergs or snow anywhere close to there, not even in that season.

So based off of that example, do military operation names ever have any correlation to the op itself? Does the name itself convey any meaning? Or do they just pick a random word to describe it?

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Good military operation names are picked for these reasons: to deliberately deceive the enemy, to have no association with the operation whatsoever, to raise the morale of the troops, or for political/marketing reasons.

The US is big on giving high level operations that will be announced to the public impressive names like "Desert Shield", "Desert Storm", "Desert Sabre" and "Just Cause". These are operations that are already intended to be discussed in public. The names are picked so the press isn't talking about "Operation Blue Spoon" (the original name for Just Cause). They usually contain many, many lower level operations with more secure names.

Operation Vittles was the name for the US airlift of supplies to West Berlin during the blockade. Operation REFORGER is an acronym for "REturn of Forces to GERmany" and it's also symbolic of the intention to reforge the German army in the event of a Soviet attack. Operation Magic Carpet returned US troops to the US after WWII. Operation Eagle Claw would have had US special forces snatch US hostages out of Iran using helicopters (it was a disaster). And so on.

The British military, more secretive and devious than most, called their operations in the Gulf War Operation Granby which is the name of a British commander in the Seven Years War and has nothing to do with Iraq. Again in 2003, what the US called Operation Iraqi Freedom the British called Operation Telic, and the Australians called Operation Falconer. During WWII Prime Minster Churchill would regularly tinker with operation names (and everything else) he thought might give something away.

If you look at the list of Japanese operations, they give a lot away in their operations. Operation AL is an attack on Alaska and Aleutian Islands, Operation MO is on Port Moresby, Operation MI is on Midway, etc. These names were likely picked for expediency during early planning and never changed.

The invasion of Normandy was originally Operation Slegehammer. The lesser known invasion of southern France was Operation Anvil to match. They were changed to Overlord and Dragoon to avoid any information leaking out. (D-Day was Operation Neptune).

Going the deception route, the German invasion of Denmark and Norway, very much intended as a surprise, was called Unternehmen Weserübung or Operation Weser Exercise implying an exercise on the Weser river nowhere near Norway. As this was during the Phoney War or Sitzkreig period, the "exercise" part fed into the Allied perception that the Germans weren't going to attack. Later, Germany would do the same thing with Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein or Operation Watch on the Rhine implying a plan to defend the Rhine River which is exactly what the Allies expected; this was the code name for The Battle Of The Bulge.

If you want to know more, this article from Parameters goes into some detail about military naming choices. You can also pick through this list of military operations and find plenty of examples, though keep in mind that list is likely to contain more high level and popular operations which are more likely to be political branding.

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    good post i like this answer much better, its a case by case basis, specifically tailored names. – Himarm Feb 10 '15 at 20:07
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    Ease of memorization and communication is also a concern, otherwise numbers or some abstract coding scheme could also be used. – Relaxed Feb 11 '15 at 1:12
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    Additional comment - During WWII, I know that the British (at least) reused old operation names to cause further confusion for Germany. There were (at least) two operation mincemeats. There was a good book on one of them. – Joel Feb 11 '15 at 2:30
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    Just a comment about 作戦; this is read sakusen, not go. It does indeed mean plan, operation, though. – jogloran Feb 11 '15 at 9:51
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    "The US is big on giving high level operations that will be announced to the public have impressive names" Propaganda-friendly names! To maintain the masses in led patriotism. Am I right? :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 12 '15 at 10:19
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Late to the party as usual . . . but as found in the documents available from the George C Marshall Library-Foundation (https://www.marshallfoundation.org/library/results/?fwp_format=2), Winston Churchill, indeed, wrote on the subject of code names. In a memorandum of 8 August 1943 he wrote to General H. L. Ismay, his chief military assistant, evidently in response to a listing of code names:

1. I have crossed out on the attached paper (marked A) a large number of unsuitable names. Operations in which large numbers of men may lose their lives ought not to be described by code-words which imply a boastful and over-confident sentiment such as “TRIUMPHANT”, or conversely which are calculated to invest the plan with an air of despondence, such as “WOEBETIDE”, “MASSACRE”, “JUMBLE”, “TROUBLE”, “FIDGET”, “FLIMSEY”, “PATHETIC”, and “JAUNDICE”. They ought not be names of a frivolous character, such as “BUNNYHUG”, “BILLLINGSGATE”, “APERITIF”, and “BALLYHOO”. They should not be ordinary words often used in other connections, such as “FLOOD”, “SMOOTH”, “SUDDEN”, “SUPREME”, “FULLFORCE”, and “FULLSPEED”. Names of living people or Ministers or Commanders should be avoided, e.g. “BRACKEN”.

2. After all, the world is wide, and intelligent thought will readily supply an unlimited number of well-sounding names which do not suggest the character pf the operation or disparage it in any way and do not enable some widow or mother to say her son was killed in an operation called “BUNNYHUG” or “BALLYHOO”.

3. Proper names are good in this field. The heroes of antiquity, figures from Greek and Roman mythology, the constellations and stars, famous racehorses, names of British and American war heroes could be used, provided they fall within the rules above. There are no doubt many other themes that could be suggested.

4. Care should be taken in all this process. An efficient and a successful administration manifests itself equally in small as in great matters.

W.S.C.

8.8.43

On 23 September 1943, Leslie Rowan, Churchill”s private secretary. sent the above to Lt. Col. Frank McCarthy of General George Marshall”s staff in Washington under this cover:

Dear Frank,

Herewith are the Prime Minister’s minute about code names and the list of code names which he promised to send to General Marshall. As I told you, I could not let you have this at Washington because we had not the list available.

Thank you very much for your kindness at Washington, and especially for the dinner party. I hope that I shall be able to return your hospitality.

Yours

Leslie Rowan

General Marshall responded to the Prime Minister on 1 October 1943:

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I received your minute to General Ismay on code names and took the matter up immediately with our Joint Security Control.

All are in agreement with your views. In the future, the names recommended for projected operations will be selected in accordance with the principles which you outlined.

Faithfully yours,

G. C. Marshall

The list of code names, with strikethroughs can be found here https://www.marshallfoundation.org/library/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2015/03/43.09.23-Code-Names-3_opt.pdf

And this, from 1 September 1943, might be interesting: https://www.marshallfoundation.org/library/digital-archive/memorandum-for-the-assistant-chief-of-staff-g-2-strong-assistant-chief-of-staff-opd-handy/

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    "Late to the party as usual" - a good answer is always worth waiting for :) – Lars Bosteen Oct 14 at 12:32
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Yes, most certainly (though not always) - consider Market Garden in September 1944. Market was the airborne drop to take the cities and bridges, and Garden was the relief operation by British XXX Corps spear-headed by the Guards Armoured Division.

The British had a penchant for two word operational names, and in this case the two names were easy to keep distinct in planner's minds, while not hinting at Arnhem directly.

Another example is Operation Neptune as part of Overlord: the Normandy Invasion of June 1044. Surely the name of the Roman King Under the Sea is an apt name for the largest (or second largest, depending how you count Kublai's invasion of Japan) amphibious invasion in history, and Overlord seems also apt for the encompassing operation that included the airborne and logistics elements of the invasion as well.

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  • I have to downvote because of that third paragraph. The Allies were paranoid about information security around Overlord, had multiple deception plans under Bodyguard and would not have risked the invasion by dropping hints. There's a story that Churchill picked Overlord after rejecting Roundhammer (mixing Operation Sledgehammer and Roundup), but I can't find a citation. The Allies used a lot of names of gods that year. – Schwern Feb 11 '15 at 9:45
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    @Schwern: You seem to have missed the point of all the deceptions around D-Day - everyone knew an invasion was coming in 1944, the secret was where. The goal of the deceptions was to keep the Germans guessing for 72 hours after D-Day about whether a second invasion at Pas de Calais was coming. In fact Hitler bought the deception for almost 2 weeks, even if not all the German High Command did, which was a significant over achievement of the goal. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 11 '15 at 12:14
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    Also Jodl bought the deceptions on D-Day morning itself, and refused Rommel's request to move Panzers at first light because the airborne landing had to be a ruse. – Pieter Geerkens Feb 11 '15 at 12:16
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    @Schwern as Peter said, the fact an amphibious landing was to occur wasn't just obvious, it was the only logical next step in the war. An invasion was happening, an amphibious landing was happening: there was no point deceiving Germany about that. The location and timing, however, were secret: and "Neptune" gives nothing away in that regard. As mentioned, Germany was massively deceived, to the point that even several days later it wasn't known if Normandy was a diversion. – Jon Story Feb 11 '15 at 15:16
  • @JonStory If Neptune was the fake landing you'd be on to something, but knowing even the name of an operation makes enemy intelligence more effective. If "123rd division will participate in Neptune" is intercepted, now they know part of the invasion's Order Of Battle (very important) and will be watching the movements of 123rd Division to guess the timing of the invasion. While I can find stories (no contemporary citations) that Churchill interfered with the Overlord naming, I can't find a single citation that Neptune was a crib for the Germans. – Schwern Feb 11 '15 at 17:38
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Part of the point of these codenames is so that if enemy intelligence gets hold of some of the chatter about the operation, it isn't immediately obvious what the exact objective is. So ideally, yes the names will be completely random.

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  • i believe operation desert storm directly correlates to the activity of the operation, giving location and objective, and not random at all. however, it was a publicly released operation name that was release while it was happening. – Himarm Feb 10 '15 at 19:07
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    @Himarm that was more a marketing name (a "brand") that a campaign name, because it allowed avoiding labelling that as a war. – SJuan76 Feb 10 '15 at 19:23
  • and actually alot of the operation names for vietnam directly relate, examples flaming dart, a airstrike counter attack. frequent wind, a helicopter evac. chopper, major air mobile offensive. ect – Himarm Feb 10 '15 at 19:32
  • looking at this list en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_operations once you get past ww2 essentially the code names no longer mater if their random or not, ww2 and before the code names were made random or picked to mislead. now they typically are catchy phrases relating to what is happening. – Himarm Feb 10 '15 at 19:38
  • How do all these sound :D :D ? They don't have to be 'completely' random. Ok they can be random. But, i guess, governments, like to be taken seriously. They don't like to be laughing stalks. So, maybe the space won't include ridiculously random ones – Rohit Feb 11 '15 at 14:04
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Up until about 30 years ago the U.S. military would assign random code names for exercises, landings, headquarters, attack plans and other schemes. During World War II, Prime Minister Churchill urged leaders to come up with valiant names for battles so no mother of a fallen soldier would have to be told her son was killed “in an operation called ‘Bunnyhug’ or ‘Ballyhoo.' The point was to protect secrecy to not afiliate a geographic location or specific feature to a region being invaded; to confuse the enemy and simplify communications. Ever since, high-profile U.S. combat campaigns get rousing names that not only are used for funding requests to Congress for medals and campaign ribbons. They also attempt to shape public perceptions. In other words they operate as a form of propaganda. U.S. troops in Vietnam were also were sent on lethal missions named Flip Flop, Hopscotch and Jingle Bells among other embarrassing titles

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