Bases in the South Pacific Area
HARDLY had the Joint Basic Plan for BOBCAT been issued when the planning agencies in CNO started work on two programs for the augmentation of advance base facilities. The first was little more than a fulfillment of the implications of operation BOBCAT, while the second involved a voyage into virtually uncharted waters.
The occupation of Borabora was inspired by the purpose of maintaining the line of communications with New Zealand and Australia. If the purpose of the operation were to be achieved, additional bases were required both to take care of American operational needs and to forestall further Japanese advances.
In January 1942, the logistic resources of the Navy were not adequate to meet the requirements implicit in the broad strategic concept. However, studies were then initiated to determine the nature and location of additional facilities. From them emerged a decision to augment and to strengthen existing United States, New Zealand, and Australian forces and installations in the Samoan Group, the Fijis, New Caledonia, and New Zealand itself, and to establish new stations on Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands and at Efate in the New Hebrides. A much greater commitment than BOBCAT, involving many more personnel and correspondingly increased matériel, this undertaking was essentially a single program of several carefully integrated parts. Its general
scope was outlined formally to the interested agencies in a letter of 6 March 1942 from CNO to all the Bureaus and several of the Divisions of Operations and in a memorandum of 3 April 1942 from the Sub Chief of Naval Operations to the Assistant Chief (Maintenance).
The letter declared that CominCh had decided that "advanced operating position be established at the earliest date practicable" at BLEACHER (Tongatabu), ROSES (Efate), and STRAW (Samoa). The broad requirements of these bases were stated to be: for BLEACHER, "a protected anchorage and fueling base, and an advanced minor naval supply base" which would serve also as "a staging point for Army and Navy aircraft operations in the (Samoa-Fiji) area; for ROSES, "a protected anchorage and a strong outpost of land aircraft" which could serve also as "a staging point and supporting point for aircraft in the (Fiji-New Caledonia) area"; for STRAW, four "strong mutually supporting defensive positions." The letter continued with the statement that representatives of the addressees had already been informed of some details orally, that formal joint plans were being prepared and that, pending their receipt, the addressees would immediately initiate the drawing of appropriate plans and the procurement and assembly of matériel and personnel. It was further stated that convoys would sail from the East Coast in three, and form the West Coast in four weeks. In essence, the prescribed procedure was that followed in the case of BOBCAT, although there were several significant refinements. To Op-30 was specifically assigned responsibility for the coordination of plans, the compilation of information with regard to cargo and personnel, the
request of transportation from N.T.S. and of personnel from BuNav. Finally, it was requested that for BLEACHER and ROSES, the Commanding, Construction, Ordnance, Supply, Medical, and Underwater Defense Officers be ordered immediately to temporary duty in the Navy Department to assist in planning.1
The memorandum from the Sub to the Assistant Chief stated that the New Zealand and the Australian Naval Boards had requested material aid for the improvement of harbors at Auckland, N.Z., Nandi and Suva in the Fijis, and Noumea, New Caledonia. Since CominCh regarded those requests favorably, it was requested that materials on an enclosed schedule be assembled as soon as possible for prompt shipment after official requests had been received, under Lend-Lease, form the New Zealand and Australian Governments.2
The three formal plans foreshadowed in CNO's letter of 6 March were all promulgated between 12 March and 20 March. They bore the same general form as the plan for BOBCAT and, with the necessary modifications of detail, the same content. Like BOBCAT, BLEACHER and ROSES were joint operations. With STRAW, however, the Army was not directly concerned, the military force in this instance being composed of Marines. In all cases, naval planning was a function divided between several of
the Bureaus and of the Divisions of Operations, with BuDocks and Op-30 having the principal roles. As in CNO's preliminary letter of 6 March, the BOBCAT pattern was refined by assigning to Op-30 specific authority and responsibility for overall coordination and for the determination of transportation and personnel requirements.3
The planning for the three bases was essentially one task. Not only were their requirements similar in many respects and their establishment simultaneous, but the ships which lifted the matériel and personnel coalesced into one convoy, despite the fact that some sailed form the East and some from the West Coast. The cognizant agencies in Washington carried out their allotted tasks of drawing plans, procuring, assembling, loading, and dispatching men and matériel. The process continued to be essentially that which had been pioneered in the case of BOBCAT. It is worthy of note that several of the ships which loaded on the West Coast for ROSES were ones which returned form BOBCAT just in time. N.T.S. again secured, assigned, and ordered the shipping. The various Bureaus assembled the matériel for which they were responsible and submitted lists detailing total weights and cubage and, in this case, specifying unusually heavy lifts. Op-30 issued directions to the loading authorities, Com12 (Port Director, San Francisco), O-in-C, NSD, Norfolk, and O-in-C, Navy Advance Base Depot, Davisville, R.I., (Quonset). This time it was stated that it was "of the utmost importance ... that unloading ... be in the order of priority of need and that collateral equipment, tools, fittings, etc., be
available for unloading at the same time as the equipment to which they belong. This applies particularly to the fittings for pontoons, barges and wharves, ... which must be available immediately on arrival ..." It was also directed that a list showing the location of materials in the various holds be given to C.O. of the Base, even if in rough form, to facilitate unloading. The letter then specified in considerable detail the order of unloading different items. Other details followed. There can be no doubt that this order reflected the experience of BOBCAT. It would be pleasant to record that this time well-designed equipment in adequate quantity was smoothly loaded in appropriate sequence. But, as in the case of BOBCAT, there were delays in the arrival of material on the dock and all ships did to become available as early as had been expected. Some important items were left behind and in the ROSES cargo, at least, there were "many non-essentials such as five carloads of beer ... (which were) loaded last."4
The similarity to BOBCAT appears also in the fact that BLEACHER, STRAW, and ROSES were established by a technique which was in nature essentially retail rather than wholesale. For purposes of planning, each base was an individual project. The matériel and personnel requirements were tailor-made. Extremely detailed individual lists were complied by the several procurement agencies and submitted to assembly, transportation, and loading activities for execution and to Op-30 for information and audit. This process entailed clerical and accounting
labors, with inevitable attendant delay and error, which would have become wholly unmanageable when, in the later stages of the war, the number of advance bases reached several hundred. Even with the ingenious procedures which were forged during 1942 and 1943, the presentation of data in comprehensible and significant form at headquarters, and the exercise from Washington of proper and necessary controls, were the major problems of 1944 and 1945.
On the other hand, those bases represented improvements over BOBCAT. Personnel allowances were more nearly adequate. The number if commissioned officers assigned to ROSES, for instance, exceeded fifty, including eleven in the Construction Department.5 The selection of equipment was better, as to both quantity and quality. Loading was improved and unloading markedly more efficient. Although partial explanation of the greater rapidity lies in the fact that at several destinations, such as Pago Pago and Tongatabu, there were superior existing port facilities some credit should be attributed to the experience of BOBCAT. Furthermore, a highly important, if obvious, new procedure was adopted. Both men and material were divided into three waves or echelons, which were dispatched at approximately monthly intervals. Thus, although there were numerous blunders in assignment to echelon, material which would be useless during the first months neither tied up shipping nor hampered early operation. The report of Rear Admiral Byrd's inspection board showed that there was still room for much improvement, but it was also a record of considerable progress.
In summary, it may be suggested that profit had been made of the lessons of BOBCAT, but that such conditions as the necessity for haste, the continuing shortage of appropriate material, and the greatly enlarged scale of the undertaking, once more dictated improvisation with similar unfortunate results.
The implementation of CominCh's decision to augment facilities at Auckland, the Fijis, and Noumea, which was announced in the memoranda of 31 March and 3 April outlined above, was undertaken by Op-30. On 6 April, a letter was sent [to] the Bureaus of Ordnance, Yards and Docks, Ships, Navigation, and to DIrector, Naval Vessels and Aircraft Division of Operations, which enclosed the memorandum of 3 April. It stated that the assembly point for the matériel and personnel would be designated later, but requested advice as to the earliest date the matériel could be available and data showing the weight, measured tons, deck space, and heavy lifts. Briefly summarized, the requirements were anti-submarine gear, tank farms, communication facilities, and small boats.6 This was followed by a letter to BuNav requesting that eleven commissioned and warrant officers and sixteen enlisted men be detailed to supervise the installation of the anti-submarine nets.7 From this modest beginning the plans for American reinforcement of those New Zealand bases burgeoned.8 Additions were made to both personnel and equipment at short intervals. The most significant letter, one set on 22 April to the
Bureaus, less Air and Med, directed that the materials be shipped either immediately or as procured, by the first available transportation. Thus, it laid down a new procedure for the movement of men and material to newly established naval activities in the Pacific.9 CNO delegated responsibility to the Bureaus. Auckland and Noumea and, to a lesser degree, Suva and Nandi in the Fijis were localities in which United Nations forces were already established and which possessed port installations superior to those at Borabora or Tongatabu. Hence, the delivery of supplies or material did not require the previous preparation of comprehensive plans such as those outlined for the movements already discussed. This new practice was regarded as an experiment. By delegating responsibility to the Bureaus, it simplified administrative procedure. It was shortly discovered, however, to have disadvantages. BuSandA, which issued the shipment orders, directed that most of the material be shipped through San Francisco. Com12, however, did not get as much information as it needed and it became necessary for Op-30 to send to its representatives there, copies of the letters which ordered the material. This was the administrative machinery by which there were dispatched the first elements of what were destined, in the cases of Auckland and Noumea, to become major advance bases.10
The proportions of the bases at Auckland and Noumea grew rapidly, particularly after the location there of the headquarters of Vice
Admiral Ghormley and the establishment of the South Pacific Amphibious Force. Nevertheless, only in the case of the Fijis was it found to be necessary to draw up a Basic Plan. The apparent necessity for this plan lay in a decision that the United States should relieve New Zealand in the defense of the Islands. This was a Joint Army-Navy operation, and, as such, required a specific overall plan. The Army played a much greater role, but again, Op-30 was given responsibillity for the coordination of the appropriate subsidiary naval plans.11 These were chiefly an amplificaiton of measures already in execution.
Likewise, essentially of the same class with earlier operations, was that which established the South Pacific Amohibious Force. Its general outlines were sketched in a formal Basic Plan, with provision made for the preparation of subsidiary plans. Since the forces emplyed were wholly Marine Corps, most of the responsibility for the oepration fell upon the staff of the Commandant. N.T.S. was directed to arrange for transportation, but otherwise CNO was not involved. Op-30 was concerned ony because the movement required an expansion of facilities in the South Pacific area over which it had cognizance.12 Nevertheless, the operation deserves mention here since it was the first stop in the change over to the offensive which began with the landings in the Solomon Islands in August. The offensive required and was made feasible by new logistics techniques which had been developed in the previous six months.
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