Commanding Officer, Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area
The Commanding Officer, Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area, was, under the Commandant, the commanding officer of an independent command. But since he and his organization discharged for the Commandant a task which was assigned the Commandant, and which involved Activities in many different locations, his duties partook of those of a member of the Commandant' s staff.
The establishment of Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area, was preceded by the establishment and development of several commissioning activities in the district. The first true Commissioning Detail and the one which was used as a pattern for subsequent details was established at Orange, Texas, by authority of a directive of the Chief of Naval Operations, dated 19 November 1942,1 which also authorized DE Pre-Commissioning Details at Boston, Mare Island, and Philadelphia. As stated in this directive, these organizations were to cooperate with the Supervisor of Shipbuilding during the pre-commissioning period in connection with details of construction and installation of equipment for destroyer escorts. They were to form a liaison group which, in cooperation with the Bureaus of Ships, Ordnance, and Naval Personnel, and their representatives, would expedite the assembly of outfitting material and personnel, and would organize and instruct crews as successive destroyer escorts were commissioned.
They were to assume responsibility for accomplishment of construction to the extent that delay, unsatisfactory work, or critical lack of material would be promptly reported to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, who had ultimate technical control over them.
Within a few weeks after the establishment of the DE Pre-Commissioning Detail at Orange, a subsidiary activity under that command was established at Houston, in connection with the DE's being constructed at the Brown Shipbuilding Company. As a result of the necessity for a similar activity to handle DE's delivered from Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley Shipyards, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations on 10 July 1943 directed the establishment of the DE Pre-Commissioning Detail at New Orleans.2 The Commanding Officer of the Detail at Orange was given additional duty as Commanding Officer of the New Orleans Detail. Subsequently, it became necessary to establish similar subsidiary details at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Bay City, Michigan, with the Officers-in-Charge reporting by letter to the Commandants of the districts in which the details were located.
Pre-Commissioning Details for Naval Auxiliary Vessels were authorized by the Chief of Naval Operations in a letter of 7 January 1944.3 Actually, this letter established the Central Pre-Commissioning Details at New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco, with New Orleans responsible for the entire Gulf Area (including Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley) and Florida south of Jacksonville. The
following basic functions for each organization were enumerated:
- To prepare vessels for commissioned service in all respects as regards material and in conformity with Naval standards working with the Supervisors of Ship building in an advisory capacity. Direct relations with ship builders are to be avoided in order to prevent confusion. Prospective Commanding Officers and their staffs deal with the Pre-Commissioning Detail Commanding Officer or his staff only.
- To cooperate with COTCLant and the Commanding Officers of the respective Receiving Stations in assembling of prospective crews.
- To cooperate with respective fitting out yards and agencies in matters pertaining to assembly of out-fitting material.
- Based on continuous experience in preparing successive vessels of the several types for commissioning, to initiate necessary action toward the standardization of equipment.
On 24 January 1944 the Commandant, Eighth Naval District, wrote to the Chief of Naval Operations that "now is the time to go further than the coordination of auxiliary commissioning ... by coordination of all commissioning activities in the Eighth Naval District."4 The result of the Commandant's recommendation was the Chief of Naval Operations' directive of 26 January 1944, establishing the administrative organization known as the Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area.5 Thus the following commissioning activities were consolidated under the Commandant, Eighth Naval District:
- DE Pre-Commissioning Detail, Orange, Texas
- DB Pre-Commissioning Detail, Houston, Texas
- DE Pre-Commissioning Detail, New Orleans, Louisiana
- DE Pre-Commissioning Detail, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- PF Commissioning Detail, New Orleans, Louisiana
- Patrol & Minecraft Commissioning Detail, New Orleans, Louisiana
- Landing Craft Commissioning Detail, New Orleans, Louisiana
- PT Commissioning Detail, New Orleans, Louisiana
- APA Pre-Commissioning Details: Pascagoula, Mississippi and Chickasaw, Alabama
Under the new arrangement all personnel of the various details and all additional personnel assigned to such duty reported to the Commandant, Eighth Naval District, for duty in the Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area. This enabled the Commandant to shift personnel from one activity to another as the need arose.
A further consolidation of commissioning activities in the New Orleans area was accomplished on 17 May 1944 by District Order No. 8-44. Under this order the Commissioning Detail, USN (Auxiliaries), and Commissioning Detail, USN (Patrol and Minecraft), located at the Naval Station, New Orleans, were merged into one Detail under one Officer-in-Charge. The Commissioning Detail, USN (Motor Torpedo Boat) was not included because of its distance from the Naval Station in Algiers. During the peak of the shipbuilding program, there was a subsidiary Commissioning Detail in each of the following localities, each with an Officer-in-Charge under the Commanding Officer, Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area:
- New Orleans, Louisiana (Naval Repair Base)
- New Orleans, Louisiana (Motor Torpedo Boat)
- Orange, Texas
- Houston, Texas
- Pascagoula, Mississippi
- Chickasaw, Alabama
- Chicago, Illinois
- Bay City, Michigan
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
In addition, Liaison Officers, administered through the individual details, were maintained either permanently or temporarily at Beaumont, Galveston, and Port Houston, Texas; at Plaquemine, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; Tampa, Florida; and Evansville, Indiana. In short, an attempt was made to provide complete service and facilities wherever Commissioning Detail assistance was required. Among the many types of Naval vessels to receive this assistance were DD's, DE's, APA's, AKA's, AK's, AF's, ATA's, LST's, LCI's, LSM's, LSMR's, ARL's, and other auxiliaries, as well as sundry yardcraft.
The original functions of the Commissioning Details were so broad in scope that virtually anything could be attempted which would improve and expedite new construction and insure that newly commissioned vessels would be, in all respects, ready for sea. To this end, all personnel were enjoined to exort every energy toward the fulfillment of this goal. Officers and men were selected largely because of their background of sea experience, and each man was indoctrinated with the philosophy that he must do his job with the same efficiency he would show if he himself were taking the vessel to sea.
In actual practice, the work of the Pre-Commissioning Details extended considerably beyond the commissioning of the vessel. For instance, the DE Pre-Commissioning Detail at Orange, Texas, made available to Commanding Officers of commissioned Destroyer Escorts any or all of its staff that the Commanding Officer might want to use in smoothing out his organization after his ship was commissioned. A qualified First Lieutenant was available to instruct the repair
parties in the location of the various damage control fittings and in a feasible sequence of closing them. He also Instructed them in the operation of the secondary drainage system, the portable electric submersible pumps, and the portable gasoline pumps. The Detail Gunnary Officer accompanied the ship on the structural firing run and was valuable in helping to organize the gun and director crews, demonstrating to the Gunnery Officer the lay-out and function of the equipment installed. The Engineering and the Electrical Officers, and the collated personnel under them, were very useful in trouble shooting various deficiencies which often became apparent after a ship was commissioned. They were available to accompany ships and to help the Engineering Officer in any way he needed them. Radio personnel helped organize the routine of the radio department and solved many technical and operational problems. On more than one occasion, when a ship's radio personnel was under complemented and weak, the Detail's Chief Radioman remained with the ship from the day of the commissioning until the ship arrived in New Orleans.
The Commissioning Details naturally were celled upon to aid in solving many different kinds of problems. For example, a ship was ready for commissioning, but no balance crew was on hand; the commissioning date had been moved up without the training activity's being informed. Sometimes Executive Officers needed help on their ships' organization books; First Lieutenants required assistance on Damage Control Books and Compartment Check-off Lists; Stores Officers were unable to make out requisitions; Gunnery Officers were inexperienced
in handling ammunition. Occasionally a Commanding Officer submitted a long shortage list only to find that most of the allowed Material was on board, but that the inexperienced personnel had been unable to identify it. Though problems such as these may seem relatively unimportant to some people, to the individual Commanding Officer they sometimes represented the difference between being ready for combat and not ready, and, therefore, they became real problems for the Commissioning Details'
After the major invasions in the European Theater, the Commissioning Details rendered substantial services to amphibious craft returning to the United States for availability and refitting out before going to the Pacific. By performing this additional function, the Commissioning Details obviated the establishment of a Fleet Administrative Office in the Eighth Naval District.
Gradually, as shipbuilding contracts were completed, it became possible to decrease Commissioning Detail activity in certain localities. Accordingly, the Detail in Bay City, Michigan, was disestablished as of 12 November 1944. The next detail to go was that in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on 15 April 1945, and then the one in Chicago, Illinois, on 11 May 1945; on 15 June 1945 the details at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and at Chickasaw, Alabama, were disestablished. On 4 June 1945 the Chief of Naval Operations, in a confidential letter to the Commandant, Eighth Naval District, stated, "In view of the fact that all Commissioning Details in Naval Districts other than the Eighth Naval District, over which the Central Commissioning Detail had control,
are, or have been, disestablished, no need is apparent for a Central Commissioning Detail for the four remaining details in the Eighth Rival District. It is considered that the Detail, Naval Repair Base, New Orleans, is amply large to absorb the work of the Central Districts."6 Under the authority of this letter, the administrative organization Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area, was disestablished as of 1 July 1945, and the Commissioning Details, USN, Eighth Naval District, came into existence. The complement of Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area, in March 1944 had been 144 officers and 483 enlisted men; the complement for the reduced facilities under Commissioning Details, USN, Eighth Naval District, was 56 officers and 150 enlisted men.
During the existence of Commissioning Details, USN, Gulf Area, there was an ever-present problem of administering subordinate activities in the Fourth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Naval Districts. Because of the excellent cooperation of the Commandants of these Districts, the problems never became acute. In any planning for the future, however, a central administrative staff, comparable to that of a division flag, should be established. Each Naval district should have its own Commanding Officer, who would report to the central staff. Under this system, certain administrative functions, such as finance and discipline, could be handled locally.
1. CominCh & CNO conf. ltr., Ser. 02875, dtd. 19 Nov. 1942. 2. VCNO Conf. ltr., Ser. 0284923, dtd. 10 Jul. 1943. 3. CNO Conf. ltr., Ser. 0736923, dtd. 7 Jan. 1944. 4. ComEight Conf. ltr. to CNO. Ser. 0232, dtd. 24 Jan. 1944. 5. CNO Conf. ltr., Ser. 049323 dtd. 26 Jan. 1944. 6. CNO Conf. ltr., Ser. 0236723, dtd. 4 Jun, 1945.
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