15 Unexpected Military Operation Codenames

You can’t guess the mission behind these military operations from their names—and that’s the point.
An American flying fortress enacts a maneuver against Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands during World War II.
An American flying fortress enacts a maneuver against Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands during World War II. / Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Winston Churchill had no time for silly military codenames. In a 1943 wartime memo on the subject of coining operation names, he cautioned: “Do not suggest the character of the operation or disparage it in any way, and do not enable some widow or mother to say that her son was killed in an operation called ‘Bunnyhug’ or ‘Ballyhoo.’” Understandable.

However, military operations—British or otherwise—haven’t always followed these principles, and some of their names seem downright ridiculous. Although there’s rarely a (public) explanation of why the weird names were assigned, that doesn’t make them any less amusing. Here are just a few of the more memorable.

Operation Dracula

Burma Campaign
The Burma Campaign during World War II. / Keystone/GettyImages

Operation Dracula was the Allied South East Asia Command’s plan to reconquer the Burmese capital of Rangoon near the end of WWII. Part of the Burma Campaign, the operation was led by British and Indian forces via sea and sky to wrest the region from Japan, which had invaded in 1942. Begun in 1944 as an outgrowth of the earlier Plan Z, the mission was abandoned—maybe because the sun came up?—but then reinstated the following year. The British and Indian forces encroached on Rangoon as monsoon season began, only to find that the Japanese had skipped town a few days earlier, whereupon it was occupied by the Indian 26th Division without opposition.

Operation Power Geyser

This one was a counterterrorism effort that involved a group of 13,000 top-secret commandos who served as military security to support the 2005 U.S. presidential inauguration of George W. Bush. The elite troops carried state-of-the-art weapons as they lurked in the shadows of the White House and the Capitol while the inauguration went down. A Power Geyser, by the way, is a fighting move from the video game series Fatal Fury, where character Terry Bogard blasts the ground with his fist, thereby devising a field of explosive energy around him that sends his opponents flying.

Operation All-American Tiger

Members of the 82nd Airborne Division land
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division land via parachute. / USAF/GettyImages

Tigers are pretty boss by themselves, but what if you had not only an American one, but an all-American one? The U.S. military ended up giving this name to the November 2003 Iraq War mission to search and clear farms and villages around the Euphrates River in the northern Iraqi town of Al-Qaim as they tried to capture a handful of insurgent leaders. They ended up detaining 12 men as a result, including a few who were on the American “Most Wanted” list. Not bad.

It’s fun to make up origin stories here, but this codename is actually no mystery. It stems from the nickname for the 82nd Airborne Division—“All-American”—and the “Tiger” squadron of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, both of which launched the first phase of the plan. And for what it’s worth, it was specifically the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment from within the 82nd who worked on this plan, and those guys have their own nickname: “The Devils in Baggy Pants,” plucked from the diary of a disgruntled Wehrmacht officer who was killed in WWII.

Operation Beastmaster

From the name, this one sounds like it absolutely, positively must have happened in the ’80s, but actually it was not until 2006 that Operation Beastmaster cleared three neighborhoods in the Baghdad suburb of Ghazaliya—an area itself codenamed “IED Alley East.” Even though none of them used scimitars or were able to telepathically communicate with animals like in the movie, U.S. troops worked in tandem with the Iraqi Army to great success, leading the latter to uncover seven weapon caches as well as a deposit of roadside bomb-crafting supplies. The mission also resulted in the capture of an (unnamed) high-value target. Sounds like that beast got mastered.

Operation Mincemeat

The snapshot meant to represent the decoy corpse’s girlfriend in the British WWII mission Operation Mincemeat.
The snapshot meant to represent the decoy corpse’s girlfriend and planted on the body to make the other false documents seem more authentic. The woman in the photo was an M15 staff member. / The National Archives, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The British military managed to sneak this strangely named mission under Churchill’s nose. Operation Mincemeat involved a decoy corpse—a possible (if gross) clue for the name’s origin. As Allied forces were preparing an attack on Sicily in 1943 during World War II, they wanted to convince the Germans that they were headed to Greece and Sardinia instead. So they took the body of Welsh laborer Glyndwr Michael, who’d died from eating rat poison, and planted some phony top-secret papers describing a plan to attack Greece and Sardinia on it, as well as a photo of a fake girlfriend, then let it float to an area off Spain where a particular Nazi agent was located. It worked perfectly. The plan was initially part of a memo containing possible ideas to lure German U-Boats toward minefields and was titled “#28: A Suggestion (not a very nice one).”

If this sounds like something from an old-timey detective pulp, well, there’s a reason for that. The scheme originally came from the mind of Ian Fleming, who later authored the James Bond books, back when he was an assistant to the head of British naval intelligence. Fleming confessed that he’d borrowed the idea of a dead body with false papers from a spy novel he’d once read.

Operation Viking Snatch

Operation Viking Snatch—which attempted to stop a rash of weapons-smuggling during the Iraq War—was carried out in September 2007. The name almost certainly derives from a snatch strap, which is a kind of tow rope used to pull bogged-down vehicles out of sand or mud, with Viking Offroad being a company that manufactures them. So, a Viking snatch strap. However, it can probably be assumed that whoever picked this codename was quite aware of its additional entendres and used it anyway.

Operation Beaver Cage

Helicopter Assault on The Iron Triangle
A helicopter assault during the Vietnam War. / tim page/GettyImages

If you thought the last one sounded crass, there’s also this one. Operation Beaver Cage was a helicopter assault launched by the U.S. Marines upon on a Vietcong base in the very populous Que Son Valley, south of Da Nang. Lasting from late April through mid-May 1967, the Marines walked away with 66 captured Vietcong soldiers and the operation was considered a success. No word on where exactly the name came from, but it’s worth pointing out that although beavers are native to North America and Eurasia, none is found in the wild in Vietnam.

Operation Safe Neighborhood

Although it sounds like it’s an edict by the street captain to drive slowly when kids are at play, this endeavor—along with its little sister, Operation Safe Market—was a 2007 effort to make residential neighborhoods, marketplaces, and areas of traffic congestion safer for Iraqis to live and work in during the Iraq War. Basically, they were cracking down on car bombs, with additional measures to decrease general sectarian violence. Not much of a secret codename, but it’s kind of adorable.

Operation Grizzly Forced Entry

War in Iraq 2003-2004
A scene in the Iraq War, 2004. / Lynsey Addario/GettyImages

The “forced entry” part makes sense, anyhow: In the summer of 2004, U.S. soldiers went out on a counterinsurgency raid in Iraq under this codename, busting into private homes to search and seize high-value targets. The guys they were looking for were suspected of attacking coalition forces, and the search was conducted in Najaf, a city just south of Baghdad. The “grizzly” bit is less clear, but the Americans might just have been flattering themselves.

Operation Magneto

Almost 20 years before the superhuman mutant of the same name was DIY-ing magnetic fields in the 1963 debut issue of X-Men, Allied forces were using this word during WWII to refer to a 1945 conference among Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, and FDR. While not strictly a military operation, the three leaders met in Yalta, USSR, in February of that year to discuss how to secure an unconditional surrender by the Germans (and also how to divvy up all the post-war geographical spoils). Operation Magneto, along with Operation Cricket, the prep meeting that happened few days prior, were collectively known as Operation Argonaut.

Operation Toenails

World War Two: The Pacific 1943
World War Two: The Pacific, 1943. / Keystone/GettyImages

A part of the Solomon Islands, the isle of New Georgia was invaded by the WWII Allied forces over the summer of 1943, and they called it Operation Toenails. The reason behind the name seems to have been lost to history. This mission was the first major Allied offensive exacted in the Solomon Islands since New Georgia’s neighbor, Guadalcanal, had been secured the previous February, and it led to the subsequent capture of the rest of the Solomons, concluding with the island of Bougainville. This invasion was part of the two-pronged, equally oddly named Operation Cartwheel, the group of attacks that the Allied troops conducted in order to first isolate and then descend upon the Japanese military base at Rabaul, on the Solomon island of New Britain.

Operation Chattanooga Choo-Choo

The plan here was to systemically bomb German railways in 1944. Seems as though someone was like “Okay, we’re bombing trains. Okay, what’s a train-themed name that we can use that doesn’t actually have the word train in it? Or railway? In any known language?” “I’ve got an idea, sir. The Nazis will have no idea what a ‘choo-choo’ is.” This was a successful mission, by the way—the railways were extensively damaged, forcing Germany to scramble for laborers to repair them when there was already a huge labor shortage. Glenn Miller would be proud.

Operation Frequent Wind

The Fall Of Saigon
The Fall Of Saigon / Dirck Halstead/GettyImages

Transpiring at the end of April 1975, Operation Frequent Wind was the wrap-up phase of the evacuation of American civilians and at-risk Vietnamese in Saigon prior to the fall of Saigon, wherein the North Vietnamese Army showed up and took over. Hours after the mission ended, North Vietnamese tanks came crashing through the gates of the Independence Palace, and President (of two days) Duong Van Minh surrendered, signifying the end of the Vietnam War. One can guess at the codename’s origin here, considering it was a helicopter-based evacuation and that it was also tremendous—81 helicopters transported 7000 people to offshore aircraft carriers over the course of two days, making it the largest helicopter evacuation on record.

Operation Lion Cub

Operation Lion Cub had two very important missions on December 21 and 24 of 2004—to commandeer a convoy full of toys to the villages of Wynott, Al Alam, and Al Owja in Iraq, and have soldiers hand them out to Iraqi children. The codename is perhaps a nod to the ancient symbol of Iraq, the Lion of Babylon. Family Readiness Groups in the U.S. and Germany had collected the toys over several months as part of a Christmas donation drive, and the operation received a very positive response from the kids and their parents.

Operation Gimlet Victory

U.S. Paratroopers Move To Frontline In Northern Iraq
U.S. paratroopers move to frontline in northern Iraq. / Patrick Barth/GettyImages

There’s not a whole lot of info out there on Operation Gimlet Victory, other than that it happened in 2004 during the Iraq War. There was a handful of other U.S. counterinsurgency operations with gimlet in their names—Operation Gimlet Crusader, Operation Gimlet Silent Sniper—that were staged in the city of Kirkuk during the same year, so one can assume that this one was, if not the victorious denouement of those operations, at least related to them. The name likely refers to the tool kind of gimlet and not the cocktail kind, but it still sounds like what happens after you slog through your tedious Friday at work and finally make it to happy hour.

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A version of this story was published in 2016; it has been updated for 2024.