Chapter II
Galapagos Units

THE HEPBURN REPORT got the Navy "into production" on bases. This expansion, however, was almost entirely of facilities of conventional design, not of a mobile type adapted to the war which impended. Th germ of mobility must be sought elsewhere, in the special problem of defending the Panama Canal on the Pacific side.

Toward the Atlantic, the Canal is shielded by a string of islands far to the East. The Hepburn Report allowed for the simple strategic fact, and its recommendation for the development of facilities at Guantanamo, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Coco Solo were explicitly influenced by it. The failure of the report to treat of the defense of the Canal from the West certainly reflects the different political and geographic situation. In the Pacific, not only did the United States not possess sites for air bases, either on American soil as at San Juan and St. Thomas, or on territory in which adequate rights were secured by treaty, as at Guantanamo Bay, but the very ground from which such bases could be built hardly existed. In lieu of the chain of islands which extends from Cuba to Trinidad, there are only the islets of Cocos and the Galapagos group; the one controlled by Costa Rica and the other by Ecuador. In neither had the United States any rights, and the acquisition of such privileges, at least in time of peace, was impeded by jealous Latin suspicion of Yankee imperialism. There was no apparent means to provide for the Canal on the Pacific


side protection equivalent to that on the Atlantic.

While this vital problem could not be examined in such a public analysis of the defense needs of the United States and the Hepburn Report, equally it could not be ignored in the war plans of the Army and Navy. For the planners, in CNO and ComFIFTEEN, for example, the question was not so much the selecting of the best adapted sites for air bases, as it was the development of a means of getting bases into operation in very short order. Mobility was the desideratum.

A solution to the problem of adequate defense of the Canal from the Pacific sprang from the principal roots. Early in 1940, at the request of President Roosevelt, who had just returned from a cruise in the Panama area, both the General Board of the Navy and the Army Navy Joint Board studied the subject and reached the conclusion that preparations must be made for the operation of constant air patrols over a wide area to the west of Panama. Specifically, they suggested that patrol squadrons of seaplanes, supported partly by tenders and partly by shore facilities, be based near Guayaquil on the Ecuadorean coast, in the Galapagos, and in the Gulf of Fonseca in Nicaragua, with minor facilities on Cocos Island for use in emergencies. The Galapagos, it was held, were the key to the situation. Every effort should be made to secure the necessary right and construct essential installations there. At the very least, their use by an enemy must be prevented.1


Meanwhile, non-military agencies had become interested in the Galapagos. A proposed Pan-American convention for the preservation of wild life, which might develop strategic or military implications as a by-product, was under consideration by the State Department. A reserve office on inactive duty, who was, however, a graduate of the Naval Academy, Lieutenant Commander Paul. F. Foster, secured, early in 1940 from the private owners, an option to lease Albermarle Island, the principal member o the Galapagos group, the purposes of commercial exploitation. Foster, whose chief, though concealed, interest was military, attempted to obtain a Federal subsidy for the dummy corporation which he established after approval of his ostensible project had been given by the government of Ecuador. In a letter to the Secretary of the Navy designed to enlist the support of the Department, Foster avowed his primary motivation, enclosed a detailed report on the islands, and explained his scheme for the conversion to military use, if expedient, of the radio station, landing field, and port facilities necessary for the commercial disguise worn by this United States penetration of the Galapagos. The War Plans Division prepared for the Chief of Naval Operations an endorsement to Foster's letter, in which it was recommended to the Secretary that the proposition be rejected, largely because the best site for a base in the Galapagos was not on Albermarle Island. Nevertheless, at President Roosevelt's wish, Foster was granted the assistance which he desired, although the Navy endeavored to keep to a minimum the installations which the government financed.2


Further explanation of the Navy's apparent lack of interest in Albermarle Island derives from the measure it had already taken to achieve Foster's and the President's basic purpose. On 1 June 1940, CNO, acting promptly on the recommendations of the General and Joint Boards for air patrols west of the Canal, requested BuAer to complete the necessary plans and to guide the other Bureaus in procuring equipment which would be assembled in the Canal Zone. In compliance, BuAer compiled a detailed list of the material which would be required at the Galapagos, Guayaquil, Fonseca and Cocos. The necessary funds were available from an appropriation of $10,000,000 for "Reserve Materials, Navy," included in the First Supplemental National Defense Appropriation Act, 1941, as well as from other sources. Procurement got underway.3

"Reserve Materials, Navy" is thus a second root from which some measure of mobility grew. As a part of the precautionary measures which the planning officers of both the Army and the Navy initiated in the mid-1930's, the Navy Department obtained the inclusion in the Appropriation Act for fiscal 1938 of an item of $3,506,000 for the purchase of "strategic and critical materials." As first conceived, this action envisaged the creation of a stockpile of materials, chiefly metallic ores, which did not exist in substantial quantity in the United States, did not deteriorate in storage, and were essential in time of war. The purpose of the appropriation was to create the stockpile. The materials were not to be used in time of peace unless they


were immediately replaced. Later in 1937, there were formulated plans for the accumulation over a period of six years of a "reserve of Munitions" with a total value of $22,000,000, which included all materials difficult of procurement on short notice but essential to mobilization for a maximum effort. The Appropriation Act for fiscal 1939, however, allowed expenditure for three types of reserve material only: gun ammunition, chemical warfare items, and strategic raw materials, to a total value of approximately $1,750,000. The administration of this appropriation and responsibility for the storage of reserves required under it, was entrusted by the Congress and SecNav to BuS&A. In July 1938, this Bureau suggested the establishment of a revolving fund which it should administer under the supervision of CNO and SecNav. This proposal was endorsed by the Chief of the War Prodcurement Planning Section of Op-23 [Fleet Maintenance Division], and in the Spring of 1939, Congress adopted in the Appropriation Act for fiscal 1940 substantially the phraseology suggested by BuS&A. The Act provided that, in order to minimize depreciation and obsolescence, such material as were currently needed should be taken from the reserve, their value charged against the proper appropriation, the Reserve Account reimbursed and the reserve material or its equivalent replaced. Thus the principal that the Navy should accumulate ready reserves of material was established.4


The quantity and the handling of these reserves still presented difficulties. As part of well-considered six year program, the Navy had asked, for fiscal 1940, for $3,545,000. Congress appropriated approximately $750,000. For 1941, CNO proposed $6,379,000. In the Autumn of 1939, the budget officer and the Bureau of the Budget jointly eliminated the item altogether, both from the regular appropriatoin for 1941 and form the Emergency Supplemental Approrpriation Act for 1940. This aciton was taken at a moment when Op0-23, which at that time had cognizance over much procurement, estimated that the total deficiency in Reserve Material, Navy was $66,715,000.5

Unlike the stockpiles of strategic minerals, the reserve materials now being procured required special storage. The provision of such warehousing introduced another phase of the developing history of Advance Bases. In estimating the total cost of the six year program, cNO included approximately $20,000,000 to be allocated to BuDocks for the construction fo storage facilities. Soon afyter the initial steps had been taken to assemble in the Canal Zone equipment for air bases, BuDocks proposed that a special Advance Base Depot be established there ,where the machinery would be kept in good working order, since in dead storage it would rapidly become inoperable. This significant suggestion was later put into effect as a part of a program of comparably greater scope which was just getting under way.6


Once the procurement of equipment for the air bases in and near the Galapagos was started, plans for its use were pushed forward. Surveys of the proposed sites were made and detailed war plans compiled. This process was nearly complete, and much of the requisite gear assembled, at the time when lieutenant Commander Foster's scheme was considered by the Secretary of the Navy. In essence, the Navy's lack of interest derived from the fact that it had already made preparations to move in and initiate independently immediate operations on a considerably greater scale than Foster's facilities would allow.7

In some degree, the program for air bases for the defense of the Canal was a consequence of the German successes in western Europe in the Spring of 1940. Certainly those triumphs explain the Supplemental Defense Appropriation Act which financed it. likewise the most obvious strategic peril of the United States lay to the East, not to the West. The report of the Joint Board which initiated the foregoing preparations for the defense of the Canal noted the uncovered gap between the coast of South America and the extreme range of patrol operations bed on Porto Rico and suggested the desirability of an air base in or near Trinidad. Additional bases for the protection of the Atlantic approaches to the United States were a matter of anxious study in the Summer of 1940. The "Destroyer-Bases" agreement with the United Kingdom provided their sites in generous measure. Immediately following


the conclusion of the agreement, Rear Admiral J.W. Greenslade, USN, President of the General Board, was appointed senior member of a board which was to confer with a British "Board of Experts" on the exact location of the new bases. Admiral Greenslade and his board, which included officers of the Army and Marine Corps as well as of the Navy, made prompt visits to the proposed sites. They submitted detailed reports on each and also participated in the preparation of a comprehensive survey of the defensive requirements of the country, comparable to the Report of the Hepburn Board. Of the many recommended new shore facilities, those at Newfoundland, at Argentia, in Bermuda, and in Trinidad, were deemed, for immediate strategic reasons, to deserve priority. All three actually became more important for the operation of ships than of planes.8

The procurement of some of the necessary shore facilities had already been initiated. On 9 August 1940, the DIrector of the War Plans Division, Captain R.S. Crenshaw, addressed to the Chief of Naval Operations a confidential memorandum which invited attention to the serious lack of equipment for advance bases for the Fleet. It recommended that immediate steps be taken to procure the materials required for the current war plans. Specifically suggested were light indicator nets, anti-submarine indicator buoys, anti-motorboat buoys, and equipment for patrol plane bases. This last, it was stated, was


the most important. The memorandum assumed the establishment of five secondary air bases similar to that contemplated for the Galapagos and tow main bases of double size. It enclosed a draft of the letter which was, in fact, sent to the Bureaus over Admiral Stark's signature on 15 August. The list of equipment compiled by BuAer for the proposed base in Galapagos, which has already been mentioned, indicated the amount and the character of the materials required.9

CNO's confidential letter of 16 August 1940 dealing with "Assembly of Material for Advanced Bases" was a significant document. It requested the Bureaus, using as guide the BuAer list for the Galapagos, to procure and to assemble the materials for similar bases. Thus it created "Galapagos Units"--the term soon had a recognized meaning--and provided for the accumulation of nine of them.10

The program of "Galapagos Units" inaugurated a new and important phase in the history of Advance Bases. Although the amount and the value of the equipment which it envisaged was small in comparison with the schedules of later years, the expenditure of at least $10,000,000 on advance base materials in some few months meant that the Navy was going :into production," perhaps not on a mass scale, but at least in wholesale quantities. Moreover, the procurement was a provision for future contingencies not for specific bases. Hence, the materials followed standard rather than individual specification; hence,


once procured, they were put into storage--this had also to be provided--rather than being installed. In essence, there were created ready units designed to perform a particular function wherever and whenever needed. This was the as yet unrecognized embryo of the functional component which was the backbone of the wartime advance bases.

Perhaps the dimensions of the "Galapagos Units" program are best illustrated by the amount of storage space required. Early in October, CNO requested the Shore Development Board to select sites for warehouses with approximately 1,000,000 square feet of space at Charleston, South Carolina and in the San Francisco Bay region. approximately half the material was to be stored in each place. In late November, Advance Base Depots--the term is important--were established in the Sixth, Twelfth, and FIfteenth Naval Districts. They were separate activities under the Commandants and were charged with keeping the materials in storage ready for instant use.11

Two further items complete the Galapagos phase of the Advance Base story. In March 1941, CNO enclosed a progress report on the "Galapagos Units" in a letter ot CinCLant and CinCpac which outlined the steps taken and authorized the addressees to withdraw a limited amount of the material for test purposes and for training.


Most of it would be ready by 1 June. In May, CinCUS instructed the Commander, Base Force to carry out a practice exercise.12

In the Galapagos Program, there can be discerned from the vantage point of hindsight the origin of many of the important elements in the wartime Advance Base story--quantity procurement of standardized units, assembly in ready state at specialized depots, advance base training ma small measure of mobility. Some vital elements were lacking--special headquarters organization and special personnel, a high degree of mobility, techniques for the dissemination of necessary information and for the control of a comp[lex machine. The development of the absent elements, recognition of fact and the value of those which had inadvertently been discovered, and the integration of the two proved to be protracted processes.


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