Chapter I
The Character of the Problem

MOBILITY is an immovable object. A logistic paradox epitomizes the brilliant achievement represented by the Advance Bases of the United States Navy in World War II. It was manifest at the outbreak of war that new bases were an imperative element in the expansion of the Naval Establishment. They were an indispensable foundation for attack, since the centers of German and Japanese power lay far beyond the range of effective operations based upon facilities in secure American control. Early victory required rapid construction. For bases, as for planes and ships, speed implied mass production. Methods must be devised for the manufacture of identical parts, for their integration by the techniques of an assembly line. If the dispersal, interchange and reassembly of component elements could also be attained, bases, hitherto anchored to the ground, would possess a high degree of mobility. This logistic miracle was not born fully grown.

The greater part of the interval between the two World War was a period of arrested development for the United States Navy. Its progressive evolution was severely circumscribed both by the prevailing temper of American opinion and by international agreement. The substantial triumph of isolationist sentiment in 1920 reinforced, in effect, a widespread wishful belief that for an indefinite future


time the prosperity and security of the nation could not be threated by external danger. The Washington Treaties of 1922 decreed a holiday in the contruction of capital ships and a perpetuation of the status quo with regard to military and naval bases in the Pacific. There was as little disposition in Congress, and in the general public, to queston our agreement not to extend our base facilities in the Pacific as to regret the holiday in the building of battleships. Hence, the Navy was not granted and, indeed, made no great effort to secure the authority or the financial resources to extend still further the increase in power, in relation to other navies, which had been achieved since the beginning of the century.

Until 1936, the Congress was reluctant to appropriate the funds for even the establishment permitted by the Washington Treaties. The tonnage of underage ships fell below Treaty levels, Shore facilities were allowed to deteriorate. For example, storage buildings of temporary construction built in 1918 at the Norfolk Navy Yard were still in use twenty years later, although economy in upkeep and operation dictated replacement by permanent structures.1 Even estimates for proposed dredging at Pearl Harbor were annually sueject to a most critical examination by a subcommittee of the House of Representatives. Thus, the conditions under which the Navy operated between 1920 and


1935 dictated a methodical perpetuation of existing facilities and administrative methods. There was small opportunity for the discovery and elaboration of logistic techniques which, in consequence, had later to be improvised in the emergency of total war.

Yet some measure of experience, if not of well integrated organizational training, was gained in the expansion of the naval establishment which began in 1936. An account of the program of ship construction appears elsewhere. Of present concern is the increase of shore facilities, within and beyond the Continental United States, which necessarily paralleled it. The mounting responsibilities of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, which, as the Public Works Agency of the Navy Department, was ordinarily charged with the construction of new facilities is readily shown by the raid rise in its appropriations.

      $    7,189,000.

The growth of the work supervised by the Bureau of Yards and Docks, which is shown in the foregoing table of appropriations reflects in particular the recommendations made by a special board appointed by the Secretary of the Navy in June 1938, of which Rear Admiral Arthur J. Hepburn was the Senior Member. The precept of the Board, which included Rear Admiral Edward J. Marquart, Capts. James S. Woods, Arthur L. Bristol, Jr., Ralph Whitman, C.E.C. and Lt. Comdr. William E. Hilbert (recorder) as well as the Senior Member, directed it "to investigate and report upon the need, for the purpose of


national defense, for the establishment of additional submarine, destroyer, mine, and naval air bases on the Coasts of the United States, its Territories, and Possessions." It made the first comprehensive study of the base facilities of the Navy since that of the Rodman Board in 1923. Its report recommended an extensive increase in base facilities, particularly those for the operation of airplanes. The sites selected were scattered along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Coasts of the United States, but included also the Canal Zone, the Caribbean, and the Pacific island possessions of the country. The report divided the increased facilities which it recommended into categories: A, for earliest completion; and B, for later completion, and then selected certain items in the Hawaiian Islands, on Wake, Guam, Johnston, and Palmyra Islands in the Pacific area, at Kodiak and Sitka in Alaska, at San Juan, in Puerto Rico, and at Pensacola in Florida, "because of their immediate strategic importance as being necessary of accomplishment at the earliest practicable date and without regard to (other) expansion...."2 The recommendations of the Hepburn Board were adopted by the Navy Department and, with some modifications, accepted by the Congress. In the spring of 1939, the Secretary of the Navy was authorized to begin the construction of most of the facilities in category A and some of those of category B. These authorizations largely explain the great increase in the


appropriations for Public Works for the fiscal year 1940. In short, contemporaneously with the outbreak of war in Europe, the Bureau of Yards and Docks began the most rapid increase in base facilities in the history of the Navy. This was the first of several elements in the story of Advance Bases which, while not entirely fortuitous, turned out to possess more important and more fortunate consequences than could have been foreseen.

Several of the new bases were situated within the continental United States. In no sense may they be considered as advanced, and their construction was an essentially routine proceeding. The bases on the Pacific islands, however, were advance, from the point of view of both their geographic situation and the constructional problems which they presented.3 The lie of the land at Wake, Johnston, and Palmyra was very much like that which was later to be encountered on other Pacific atolls on which Advance Bases, in the full connotation of the term, were constructed in 1942 and 1943. Many important facilities were lacking--a well-developed harbor with a protected deep water anchorage, docks, roads, human habitation, local labor supply, potable water in quantity, fresh food, electric power; in brief, much of the physical basis of life in the United


States was unavailable. These deficiencies greatly augmented the difficulties of constructing a naval shore activity of any sort. An exceptionally farsighted observer might have discerned the hazy outlines of problems which had later to be solved all over the Pacific, often in the face of the enemy.

The implementation of the Hepburn Report did, however, generate certain by-products of great importance for the logistics of Advance Bases. For example, the genesis of the Construction Battalion lay in the problems encountered in the employment of civilian labor in the construction of pre-war bases. Likewise, in order to carry out the prescribed program, the Navy made demands upon the nation's industrial plant which stimulated the production of some of the matériel necessary to equip any base, at home or abroad. Hence, initial steps had been taken ad some limited experience gained which later facilitated the design and the production in quantity of articles not yet part of the standard output of American industry. There can be little doubt that the difficulties of waging war against Japan would have been measurably greater had the construction of bases in outlying areas not begun before the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Next Chapter (2)

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation