Chapter III
United Kingdom Bases

See also Building the Navy's Bases in World War II.

FOUR bases constructed in the United Kingdom in 1941 proved to be the nuclear core of subsequent Advance Base development. In origin separate from the programs already discussed, those Trans-Atlantic bases seemingly possessed a magnetic quality which attracted both the earlier base preparations and many other elements of the Navy's total activity. From a natural amalgamation grew the organization which was destined to direct the procurement, distribution, and construction of several hundred shore facilities in all parts of the world.

By the early months of 1941, the need for the rapid provision of operating bases in the United Kingdom became apparent Both the state of the war in Europe and the temper of American opinion dictated action. Great Britain had survived the attack of the Luftwaffe, and a successful German invasion appeared to be unlikely. Nevertheless, the U-boat assault on British shipping was becoming steadily more serious. Meanwhile, in the United States, the election fo 1940 had shown that the nation, which still anxious to escape outright hostilities, was not ready to accept a German victory. The enactment in March 1941, not without opposition, of the Lend-Lease Bill put an end to the pretense of neutrality. The United States was vitally interested in the Battle of the Atlantic. If the "Arsenal of Democracy" were to fulfill its acknowledged task, the delivery of munitions was as important as their production. In brief, increased American participation in


anti-submarine activities appeared to be necessary, and full entry into the war against Germany probable.

Under these circumstances, an Anglo-American conference of military staffs was a natural procedure. The conversations took place in January 1941. From them emerged an agreement on broad strategy and on allocation of tasks. One of the accepted plans assigned to the United States Navy joint responsibility for the protection of the North Atlantic supply line. Implementation of this decision got under way immediately.

Two basic elements necessary for the execution of the undertaking were the preparation of appropriate naval forces and the provision of bases for their operation. The creation in the Atlantic Fleet, at the end of February, of Support Force, under the command of Rear Admiral A.L. Bristol, put the former requirement in line of completion. This Task Force consisted initially of a destroyer flotilla of three squadrons and a patrol wing of four squadrons, plus auxiliaries. Its training and the drawing of its operating plans were essentially routine tasks.1

The second phase of the broad program, the erection of operating bases, was initially a more complicated matter. The first stop toward its solution was a visit to the United Kingdom in February by Captain Louis E. Denfeld, Chief of Staff of Commander, Support Force, Commander K.B. Bragg, C.E.C., and Lieutenant Commander S.H. Ingersoll. Captain Denfeld was instructed to inspect and to report upon


likely sites for two destroyer and two seaplane bases. His comprehensive survey resulted in a recommendation that the destroyer bases be established at Londonderry in Northern Ireland and at Gareloch in the Firth of Clyde, near Glasgow, Scotland and the air bases in Loch Erne, near Londonderry and in Loch Ryan at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde. After completing preliminary arrangements with the Admiralty and the British government, Captain Denfeld and his associates returned to the United States in March. Denfeld assumed his new duties with the Support Force, of which the establishment of its prospective operating facilities was a large part.2

The approval of the Lend-Lease Bill on 11 March had, meanwhile, give to the President and the Navy Department legal authority with which the proposed base facilities might be clothed. CNO sent to the Bureaus a series of directives which set in motion the establishment of the United Kingdom Bases.

The secret letter of 21 March on the subject of the preparation of Advance Patrol Plane Bases and Mobile Aviation Repair Units explained the urgency for the contemplated shore facilities under the assumption that the United States would enter the war. If the United States remained technically at peace the facilities would be turned over to the British under the terms of the Lend-Lease Act. As a consequence, it was desired that the Bureaus assemble in Atlantic Coast Ports the matériel needed for two operating bases for four patrol plane squadrons or forty-eight planes at each. It was to be assumed for purposes of planning that one base would be established on an inland


lake (Loch Erne) and one on the seacoast (Loch Ryan). There followed a brief, general statement of the required facilities. The Bureaus were requested to assemble materials for overhauls and repairs, to organize and assign to the Support Forces a Mobile Aviation Repair Unit, roughly comparable to those on the repair ships, Medusa and Vestal, and to assign to the Staff of the Commander, Support Force, with additional duty in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, an officer to coordinate the work, who would be qualified to command one base. It was directed that so far as possible material be drawn from that on order, and that formal contracts for the remainder be deferred until the provisions of the Lend-Lease Bill became effective. Finally, it was stated that the strictest secrecy must be maintained.3

The urgency of the whole project was so great that the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations requested from the Priorities Committee of the Army-Navy Munitions Board the highest priority, AA. This request was denied chiefly because it was believed that a lower priority, A-1-A, which was assigned, would give to many, and perhaps all, items the highest priority as yet in effect. The Board indicated that AA priority would be accorded individual cases should it prove to be necessary.4

Subsequent letters augmented the program. On 2 April, a clarifying directive explained that there had been leased at the Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, Rhode Island, a large tract of land on


which storehouses were being erected rapidly with easy access to rail and highway transportation and to extensive piers. A contract had been awarded by the Bureau of Yards and Docks to "George A. Fuller Company, Merrit-Chapman and Scott Corporation for the purchase, fabrication, crating, storing, and marking of material and equipment" The Bureaus were instructed to ship material to the Officer-in-Charge of Construction, Temporary Aviation Facilities, Quonset.5

Six days later, CNO informed all the Bureaus and Offices of the Navy Department that the Advance Destroyer and Air Bases had been designated and that materials for them were to be marked "A" or "B" for the air bases and "One" or "Two" for the destroyer bases. The newly established Naval Depot at Bayonne, N.J., was assigned as the assembly point for consumable supplies and maintenance materials destined for the British Isles. Commander E.W. Litch, USN, had been selected to command Base A and would act as coordinator for all work relating to the project. A parallel arrangement was contemplated for the destroyer bases. Both officers were to be attached to the special section of Op-12, which was already the Washington headquarters of Commander, Support Force.6

Also in April, CNO directed that destroyer and submarine repair units be formed. The Bureaus of Navigation and Ships got the projects started promptly. In early May, the overall program was modified in a summarizing directive. There were now to be two Destroyer Repair Units, each roughly equivalent to the repair personnel of two


destroyer tenders (approximately 430 men); two Aviation Repair Units, each equivalent to the repair personnel of two seaplane tenders (approximately 175 men); and two Submarine Units, equivalent to the repair personnel of a submarine tender (approximately 300 men). The personnel, officers and men, were to be assembled without delay, the Destroyer Units at San Diego, the Aviation Units at Norfolk, and Submarine Units at New London. The Bureaus of Ships, Aeronautics and Ordnance were instructed to assemble at Quonset the machine tools and shop equipment normally installed on the equivalent tenders. if new tools and equipment could not be obtained promptly, second hand materials were to be used. Later, Base Units to operate the two destroyer bases were also formed.7

It is to be noted that two submarine bases had been added to the general scheme. One was planned for Gibraltar and was to consist of a minimum of shore facilities, its core being a tender. The other submarine base was to be combined physically, although not administratively, with the destroyer base at Gareloch. This addition of submarine facilities complicated the administrative task since it added SubsLant to the several other agencies already involved.8


The dimensions of the program may be well gauged by a few figures. The estimated weight of materials for the destroyer and air bases was 200,000 tons, including 140,000 tons of construction material and 25,000 tons of construction equipment, and 35,000 tons of mechanical and electric equipment. It was expected that nearly 4,000 civilian construction personnel would be employed in the United Kingdom in addition to a large force at Quonset. The funds allocated from the Lend-Lease Appropriation totalled $50,000,000. Tentative complements of Naval personnel were estimated in June to total more than 9,000 officers and men, including Marines.9

Two aspects of the United Kingdom program merit emphasis. In size and in required rapidity of completion, it dwarfed all previous advance base undertakings. In consequence, established procedures would not suffice. This was particularly true of the task which devolved upon the Bureau of Yards and Docks. Its role in the recent accumulation of Reserve Materials and of Galapagos Units had consisted chiefly in the provision storage. Little BuDocks material had gone into the stockpiles. For the British bases, in contrast, Public Works overshadowed all else. Of the $50,000,000 total cost, more than $40,000,000 were allocated to BuDocks. This dominating position derived from the nature of the project, the establishment of specific rather than the preparation of contingent bases. Thus, at first glance, the undertaking appears to be a step away from mobility. Such, however, was not


from materials exported from the United States, it was essential that they be composed, so far as possible, of prepared units capable of speedy erection. In this requirement, mobility was born.

Planning officers in the Bureau of Yards and Docks, particularly Commander J.M. Laycock, USN, and Lieutenant Commander E.S. Huntington, USNR, had derived from the German victories in Poland the conclusion that mobility was the key to military success. Translated into naval terms that sine qua non, they thought, required for shore facilities the development of prefabricated units capable of flexible combination of adaptation to highly varied uses. One example was a hollow steel cube, 4'×7'×4', so designed that it could be fastened to an indefinite number of identical parts to form a small floating dry dock, a sizeable raft, or some other piece of equally vital equipment. Other types of mobile gear were portable housing, portable stills, and portable generators.

During 1940, Commander Laycock endeavored without much success to secure from Operations general approval of his projected equipment and an allocation of funds for the procurement of experimental units. Such preliminary production was desirable for two reasons. It would allow a testing of the product and a consequent improvement of design. Of greater importance, it would be a means of preparing American industrial plants, as yet wholly untrained and untooled, for immediate mass production in the event of war. In the procurement of the Galapagos Units, a very small beginning was made. In 1941, however, Operations was eager to endorse any promising technique for establishing the British bases with minimum delay.


Commander Laycock and his associates were given free rein.10

The construction of the United Kingdom bases thus fostered a close partnership between certain sections of the bureau of Yards and Docks and the Washington headquarters of the Support Force. Responsibility for the military fitness of the bases lay upon Commander, Support Force and ComsubsLant. Their authority was commonly exercised,however, by the members of their staffs who had additional duty in CNO. These later were organized as a distinct section of the War Plans Division, which was the segment of Operations most directly concerned. The concrete satisfaction of military requirements, in contrast, rested primarily upon the War Plans Section of BuDocks, though appropriate portions of other Bureaus, particularly BuShips and BuAer, played a considerable role. Important decisions were the product of joint effort, and ordinarily were based upon consultations between the interested agencies, in Operations, the Bureaus, or elsewhere. In brief, both planning and execution were divided, though cooperative, functions. The military work was one by an ad hoc hybrid organization which represented both CNO and high echelons of command at sea or in the field. Directives sometimes bore the signature of CNO, sometimes that of a military commander. The detailed application of military specifications, on the other hand, was worked out by the Bureaus, particularly by BuDocks, under the supervising and coordinating eye of the special military organization. Procurement also was performed by the Bureaus, again particularly by BuDocks. A very large proportion of the actual supply was provided by the George A. Fuller Company and Merritt-Chapman and


Scott Corporation. the contractors under the BuDocks Contract NOy 4175. Other materials came from appropriate sources, often standard agencies of BuShips, BuOrd, or BuAer. This was a cumbersome mechanism, but a highly significant one, for it was destined to become the backbone of the wartime Advance Base organism. It was to be modified in detail and in degree, but not in kind.

The special section of Op-12 requires further examination. It was headed by Rear Admiral Bristol, Commander, Support Forces, who was, however, commonly not in Washington. The other major members were the prospective commanding officers of the emergent bases. First among them to report was Commander E.W. Litch, USN, designated to command Base A. The others were Captains W.A. Corn and W.J. Larson for Destroyer Bases "One" and "Two", and Commander D.V. Gallery for Base "B". Other officers who staffed the Washington headquarters included Commander J.P. Compton, who handled most of the business of the Submarine Base, Commander L.T. Haugen, Commander G.M. O'Rear, Lieutenant Commander W.J. Slattery, Commander W.A. Buck, SC, and Lieutenant J.W. Boundry, SC. Incident to their planning and coordinating duties in Washington, were brief tours of extra duty at Norfolk, Quonset, New London, or elsewhere, to expedite the undertaking. A number of other officers, particularly members of Admiral Bristol's staff, visited Washington on occasion for the same purpose. In the field, the Officer-in-Charge of Construction at Quonset, COmmander R.V. Miller, CEC, headed a staff of very active officers. Commander Bragg was in charge of construction in the United Kingdom, and had as associates a group


which by the autumn included Captain Larson and Commanders Litch and Gallery. It was [a] fluid organization over which Captain Corn presided after he reported in Washington in May, and to which he gave direction. The problems with which it was confronted were frequently without precedent, and the solutions devised were often guides followed in the future. It can hardly have been an accident that several of these officers, Corn, Compton, and Gallery, in particular, later played important roles in the wartime logistics organization of the Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

During the months of April and May, while this nuclear staff was being assembled, the basic directives already discussed had been issued. Their detailed implementation had begun. Although the major part of the overall task remained, only its outlines need consideration here.

The material bureaus, especially BuShips and BuDocks, compiled a great many lists drawn in general terms; others were extremely specific, indicating the exact quantities of myriad items, bolts, and nails, swabs, and pails, no less than large and intricate machine tools. The standard allowance lists of the destroyer and submarine tenders, which in CNO's directives were indicated as models, provided a ready foundation for many of the lists. If modifications to suit the different conditions of operation ashore were necessary, those allowance lists were a means of assurance that essential materials would not inadvertently be left out. In other cases, there existed no such ready-made guides. For Public Works material, BuDocks had the benefit of


experience gained in equipping the air facilities established in pursuance of the recommendations of the Hepburn Board and the still more recent bases envisaged in the destroyer deal. But in neither case were general conditions similar to those in the United Kingdom. Climate was different. The need for defense against air attack was much greater. Maintenance problems were affected by longer and more hazardous lines of supply. Hence, tentative lists of material requirements were carefully studied by th military organization in CNO.

The drafting and modification of those lists was a laborious and superficially a routine process. Yet from the viewpoint of naval logistics, it was of profound import. One primary key to base mobility was the development of techniques for the prompt determination in terms of ultimate detail of the material requirements for bases of highly divergent and rapidly changing specifications. Experience was the sole matrix in which such machinery could be formed, and the United Kingdom bases were the source of rich experience.

In addition to its supervision of the plans of the material bureaus, the base office in CNO exercised primary control over personnel. It submitted to BuNav schedules of complements and supervised the requisite training. The personnel letters have been considered already. In compliance with them, BuNav assembled at San Diego, Norfolk, and New London, the stipulated men. A nucleus were experienced rates, culled with difficulty from the already under-manned ships of the nascent two-ocean Navy. A majority were seamen fresh from boot camp. At the assembly points, the received special training under the direction


of officers detailed for duty on the staffs of the contemplated bases. In this fashion, there were forged the first specialized Advance Base Units. The process foreshadowed the wartime technical and tactical training which turned out personnel units qualified to start working simultaneously with the unloading of their material equipment. The present practice differed from that of the future chiefly in the fact that in this instance the prospective commanding officers were occupied in supervising the procurement and installation of operating materials, rather than in directing in person the shake-down of their units.

The special circumstance that the United Kingdom bases were ostensibly a Lend-Lese undertaking was an added complication. Because of the Neutrality Act material and personnel of American origin destined for American bases had to be transported in British shipping. This necessitated negotiations with British agencies. At first, planned weekly shipments from Quonset of twelve thousand tons, increasing later to twenty thousand, were to begin early in June and to continue through August. Actually, the first ship sailed from Quonset on 23 June and carried only 3750 tons of cargo. Succeeding shipments of roughly the same size took place at ten-day intervals until the middle of July and then became more frequent. From early September until the end of October, they were supplemented by other sailings from Providence. Almost the total life had been dispatched by the middle of November. Difficulties were also encountered in securing transportation both of the skilled construction personnel and for the supervisory Naval officers. Arrangements were made partly by Captain Corn's office and


partly by BuDocks. The former endeavored to obtain faster cargo ships and to shorten the time spent in loading. It also acted as coordinator between the contractors, the State Department, and naval agencies in the complicated procedure necessary for both civilian and uniformed personnel.11

In the field of material procurement, much the largest part of the United Kingdom program fell upon BuDocks. Although the Support Force staff determined general specifications, the details of BuDocks performance fell outside the limits of the present study. The techniques by which this procurement was accomplished, however, were important in the history of Advance Bases. On 1 July 1940, BuDocks Contract NOy 4175 with George A. Fuller Company and Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corporation was signed. It provided that the companies, two large and reputable construction concerns, build the new air base at Quonset on a cost plus fixed fee basis. Supplemental agreements extended the obligations of the contractors to include the supply of materials for the bases in Santa Lucia, Jamaica, Antigua, and for Advance Bases, both those contemplated when the Depots were established in the Sixth, Twelfth, and Fifteenth Naval Districts and those in the United Kingdom. To carry out their responsibility, the contractors established at Quonset the industrial plants necessary to manufacture such specialized base equipment, a purchasing office to draw other items from appropriate sources, and a shipping organization for packing, marking, and


moving highly diversified products. Under the supervision of BuDocks, particularly the Officer-in-Charge of Construction, the contractors became, in effect, a civilian agency for the supply of advance base matériel.

Particularly important among the articles assembled at Quonset were the hollow steel cubes which Commander Laycock had conceived, and the very well-known portable housing units. The Quonset hut was a modification of the British Nissen hut. By degrees, in part by accident, Quonset Point, which had been selected by the Hepburn Board as the site of a primary air station, became of at least equal importance for advance bases.

The role of george A. Fuller Company, Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corporation was magnified by the negotiation of BuDocks, Contract NOy 4850, which provided that the contractors construct the four British bases. Since the contractors supplied all the equipment, this was a logical arrangement. British personnel, partly Irish partly Scottish, could and did perform the unskilled labor, but only Americans possessed the knowledge of American machinery and methods to accomplish efficiently the jobs for which skill and experience were requisite. Construction could not be undertaken by the Navy, not only because of other Public Works programs already taxed the limited personnel of the Civil Engineer Corps and authority to recruit such enlisted construction personnel as the CB's did not yet exist. Since Lend-Lease funds could not be allocated for a project of this nature, and Navy appropriations were manifestly not available, the British government


assumed the financial burden of actual construction. The Navy's interests were safeguarded, however, since it let the contract on a cost plus fixed fee basis, and detailed officers, headed by Commander K.V. Bragg, to oversee and to direct the work in the capacity of special naval observers. Thus, did the fiction of neutrality cloak an American preparation for war.

Although progress was not as rapid as had been intended originally, the Quonset phase of the undertaking approached completion by the early autumn, Sine workmen were discharged as early as August and in October the material remaining to be shipped had diminished to the point that it was necessary to make careful calculation for the efficient handling of the remainder. At that time, the construction of Bases I and A in North Ireland was about 40% completed, and it was estimated that they would be ready for occupation by the United States by 1 December. Bases II and B in Scotland had a lower priority and would not be ready until 1 February 1942.12

Meanwhile, the program had developed valuable by-products. Base Facilities were being generally expanded to meet the needs of the projected "Two-Ocean Navy." A great deal of equipment was required on short notice. Quonset was the most convenient or the only source of supply. Often it was possible to divert an item and to order a replacement without prejudice to the United Kingdom schedule. Many of the diversions were small but essential items, some destined for points


as remote as Aleutian and Pacific islands. Between the middle of August and the end of October, six full shiploads were sent to bases in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Brazil. Other material was diverted to Iceland, where the Army and the Navy [&Marine Corps] were replacing the British forces. Like the British bases, the facilities at Halifax, Argentia, and in Iceland were designed chiefly for the use of the Support Force.

The United Kingdom bases were of great importance as the major, almost the sole, means through which the Navy made pre-war preparations for Advance Bases. Form the point of view of the organization of the Navy Department, they also had high significance .the need for some coordinating agency had been understood from the beginning. Since it was then supposed that the situation would be temporary, an improvised arrangement was a natural expedient. The illogicality was well phrased by some officer who had a large part in the program. "... It seems to me to be a poor procedure to require an organization afloat to set up an establishment ashore in order to properly perform the functions that should be performed by the Bureaus ..." By the autumn, however, it was apparent that some reasonably permanent arrangement must be made. Among several possible locations for an Advance Base Desk, Op-12 [War Plans] or Op-23 [Fleet Maintenance] for instance, Op-30 [Naval Districts] was chosen. In a letter to all Bureaus and Offices, dated 14 October 1941, CNO designated the Director, Naval Districts Division, "as the coordinating agency of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations for all matters pertaining to the development, administration, and defense of all outlying and advanced naval bases except the civil government of Guam and Samoa...."


It may be argued that the Naval Districts Division was an inappropriate choice. As events turned out, the decision mattered little. The desk was fated to an elephantine growth and would either have swallowed up its foster organization or its growth would have forced a dissolution of a connection with an equally lusty agency, It was inevitable that there be a very large base division in CNO. The directive of 14 October is important because it gave Advance Bases a recognized and regular position, and because it determined the number, Op-30, which the division was to bear.13

The subsequent history of the United Kingdom bases was not that which had been anticipated. Although all four were put to good use and turned out to be the forerunners of many more American bases in the British Isles, only from Base One at Londonderry did United States forces undertake promptly after Pearl Harbor the protection of North Atlantic shipping. Much of the special personnel also had an unexpected fate. Most of the members of the two Destroyer Repair Units were ordered to Pearl Harbor in mid-December 1941 to fill a need far greater than that for which they had been trained.

Nonetheless, the British bases were the true origin of the tremendous Advance Base activity of the war. There were evolved and proven the organization, methods, and matériel without which they war against Germany and Japan could never have been won. The men who conceived and executed the United Kingdom programs built far better than they knew.


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