CTF 24: ADMIRAL BRAINARD (PART II)
The latter part of Admiral Brainard's tour of duty as Commander Task Force 24, from January until May of 1943 was almost wholly concerned with convoy escort operations and matters related thereto. On January 7, 1943 he started the ball rolling with his first escort order of the year. Four days later he wrote the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, requesting more ships for escort duty with the Greenland Patrol. Captain Smith, Commander Greenland Patrol had 35 ships to carry out his assigned jobs but he felt that 52 would be necessary. His duties consisted of defending Greenland and its surrounding waters, furnishing weather information to Army aircraft ferry operations, and supporting operations in the Greenland-Labrador area. Although Admiral Brainard felt that operations could be conducted with the present force, the additions requested would serve to improve the effectiveness of operations in that area, and therefore he submitted to the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, a list of the type ships which would be required.
Operations Plan No. 1-43 was issued by Commander Task Force 24 on 28 January 1943 and, as usual, there were changes. Task Group 24.2 had been changed from the United States Navy Trade Convoy Group to the Service Group, composed of the PRAIRIE and KEWEAH. Captain Baker had relieved Commander
Hundt of the Air Group; the Home Base Group had given way to an Auxiliary Carrier Group containing CVEs BOGUE and CARD. Task Group 24.5 had lost its administrative status and had become the first Weather Patrol Group officially under Brainard's Task Organization. Captain Fizz had relieved Captain Thebaud in Londonderry; Commander Greenland Patrol had gone from Captain to Rear Admiral E. H. Smith; and Captain Nelson was now in command of Naval Operating Base, Argentia. Task Group 24.11 was out and Rear Admiral Murray, RCN, now commanded the Canadian Western Local Escort Force, now 24.18.1
But evidently some changes were necessary, for during the past six months things had been happening to make the convoy escort picture appear considerably on the somber side. Although the average number of merchant vessels escorted each month had remained fairly constant at about 600 with an approximate average of 40 ships per convoy, the average number of U-boats operating in the North Atlantic area had undergone a steady increase from about 5 in July 1942 to about 31 in December 1942. Moreover, indications pointed toward an increasing number of U-boats operating in this area. Merchant ships sunk in the area had increased from 4 to 26 per month over the same period of time, an
approximate increase in percentage from 0.74 to 4.44. About 85 percent of the attacks occurred between 25° West and 45° West which, on both northern and southern (Africa and South America bound shipping) routes, was practically without air coverage. It therefore appeared to Commander Task Force 24 that one of the most promising ways of improving the protection, or at least partially closing these gaps, was by using long range planes to provide air coverage. After studying the situation carefully he came to the conclusion that although,
The weather conditions in both Newfoundland and Greenland are such that aircraft operations are continuously hampered regardless of type of aircraft provided ... However, long range aircraft operating from these bases will, when weather permits, insure more effective and extensive coverage than is the case at present.2
Furthermore, in cases of unfavorable weather conditions at their regular base it would make it possible for planes to return to some more distant alternate base.
Admiral Brainard had written Admiral Ingersoll about this matter of the need for long range aircraft and Ingersoll had concurred. Brainard said that he trusted his hopes would be realized in the very near future in regard to this matter, since he felt that the Western Support Force (Task Force 24's escorts) had not produced an excessive amount of "support". This was because they needed more ships and
had been handicapped by the slowness of the destroyer escort building program. "The present escort groups are very thin protection and will prove even thinner as the menace increases --- which it bids fair to do,"3 stated the Admiral.
New proposals for convoy sailing intervals and convoy route diversions were in the air at the beginning of the year, and to Brainard with only eight groups of escorts operating under him, they looked rather impractical. Previously, on the 22nd of January, he had received a letter from Rear Admiral W. S. DeLany on Admiral King's staff in Washington, and this had cleared matters up. In his reply 8 February Admiral Brainard stated the reason why this matter had bothered him so much:
These radical diversions had caused me some concern due to the ever-present critical fuel situation facing escorts particularly during this season of heavy weather when fueling from the convoy is quite often impractical. Undoubtedly diversions based on the information which you apparently have should pay over-all dividends.
It has been my intention to write you personally on a few matters pertaining to the Northwest Atlantic situation, however, I am now refraining from so doing in view of the prospective conference in Washington with the many implications inferred therein.4
(This conference to which Brainard refers was to work out a reorganization of the convoy escort system in the Atlantic and was scheduled for 1 March.)
The Atlantic Convoy Conference convened on the 1st of March and lasted for the next twelve days. It came about through the suggestion of the Canadian Naval Service Headquarters, via Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, to the Admiralty. The proposal was accepted to talk over the Western Atlantic Trade Convoy Escort Forces and other convoy problems. At the meeting were representatives of the United States Navy, Army, and War Shipping Administration; Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Air Force. When the conference adjourned on the 12th the face of the escort of convoy situation had been radically revamped. The reallocation of forces during the past several months, incident to opening additional convoy routes and activities in the Mediterranean, caused be withdrawal of most of the United States escort vessels from Task Force 24. (They were being used to escort convoys of supplies to the United States forces in Africa). Therefore it became appropriate for Great Britain and Canada to take complete charge of the Northern Atlantic convoy system, with primary responsibility assumed by Great Britain. The United Kingdom and Canada were to take charge of trade convoys between the British Isles and New York and ports north thereof (HX, SC, and ON convoys), with the understanding that the United States retained strategic authority and responsibility throughout the Western Atlantic Area, and
that all existing arrangements and agreements were to remain in effect except as specially modified in the instructions put out by the conference. However the United States was far from being divested of all responsibility ---
Greenland convoys to be operated by the CinClant through a U.S. Naval Commander designated by him who will provide the escort and local air coverage within the range of Greenland based aircraft and supplement the coverage prescribed in paragraph 6 (a). Routings and diversions to be controlled by CinC, C.N.W.A.C., in the Canadian Coastal Zone; elsewhere by the CinClant or U.S. Naval Commander designated by him.
Iceland shuttle (if maintained) to be operated by the CinClant through a U.S. Naval Commander designated by him, who will provide the escorts, provide a local air cover, and route shuttle convoys to and from meeting points with trade convoys to be designated by the Admiralty. Diversions are controlled by the Admiralty.
United States retain Argentia and Londonderry as bases for U.S. Naval Forces, making excess facilities for maintenance of RN and RCN escort vessels.5
This last paragraph seems to have thrown Admiral Brainard for a temporary loss, because he requested a clarification of the mission of Naval Operating Base, Argentia. The confusion arose from the fact that a letter of 3 April sent the Commandant had listed certain definite commitments concerning the maintenance of vessels assigned to escort duty, yet this rather loose statement of A.C.C.-1 seemed to be the controlling policy. Commander Task Force 24 noted that by 1 July 1943 the only United States Naval vessels which would regularly require Argentia as a base were about
six vessels of the Greenland Patrol which would visit Argentia approximately every three weeks. However, large task forces of the Atlantic Fleet would unquestionably use the Base from time to time. Also vessels proceeding to and from Greenland, vessels escorting between Argentia and the United States, and other miscellaneous craft, including approximately twenty local defense and harbor craft, would require intermittent basing. Since there was a marked discrepancy in commitments, Commander Task Force 24 did not feel that he could make any accurate analysis of present and future requirements of the base. This being the case, a restatement of commitments would be necessary.
Rear Admiral Murray had been made Commander in Chief, Canadian Northwest Atlantic Command (CinC, CNWAC) and as such came to Argentia on 16 April to discuss with Admiral Brainard the proposed change in Command Relations and Responsibility for the protection of shipping in the North Western Atlantic. The latter had prepared a letter, the purpose of which was to implement, supplement, and confirm some of the points outlined in Appendix "A" of A.C.C.-1 in connection with the change in command relations, etc. Admiral Brainard pointed out that the plan for the Defense of Newfoundland was in no way affected; that St. John's was Still a terminal for Greenland convoys, and that it was understood that Admiral Murray would maintain a liaison Officer between Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy vessels
and SOPA Argentia. Admiral Brainard went on to elucidate upon the use of Naval Operating Base, Argentia, the discrepancies connected with that matter having been cleared up. With reference to the paragraph previously quoted from A.C.C.-1, Brainard said,
In carrying out this directive, the SOPA will make every effort to render maximum service to the RN and RCN forces and at the same time to interfere in no way with the operational control of these vessels . . .
Due to the limited excess repair facilities and the uneven work load placed upon them, it will be necessary for the operational authority to obtain availability for repairs in each specific instance. To effect this, SOPA Argentia must be informed as to the desired repair services as far in advance as possible together with the limiting date of readiness for sea. Based on present facilities, only one trade convoy escort group (carrier support or mid-ocean group) can normally be provided repair services at any one time.6
The SOPA was to exercise general supervision over the servicing of such forces by the tender and the Base; also to exercise the usual functions of SOPA, including operational control of vessels while in Placentia Bay for "emergency purposes only." The Commandant of the Naval Operating Base, was to continue rendering services as in the past.
Admiral Murray stated that all the commitments, arrangements, and assumptions as outlined in Admiral Brainard's letter were satisfactory and would be adhered to by him. He further said, "I am ready to assume command of
Naval surface forces involved in accordance with the provisions of Commander in Chief, United States Fleet, despatch 301251 of March 1943 at 2400 Zebra April 30, 1943,"7 and endorsed the letter to that effect.
In accordance with agreements arrived at by the Washington Atlantic Convoy Conference, the task of protecting merchant shipping in the North Atlantic, except Greenland convoys and local Greenland-Labrador shipping, was assumed by British-Canadian authorities. "The main features of this agreement", said Brainard to Commander Greenland Patrol on April, "affecting your Greenland operations are as follows:
- Greenland shipping between southern ports and St. John's will continue to be handled as at present.
- Convoys between Greenland and St. John's will continue as at present with certain exceptions, which are hereinafter set forth, as to air protection.
- The operational authority in Newfoundland, FONF, will provide air coverage for Greenland convoys within air range of the Newfoundland airports. In this connection, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, and RCAF planes in the Newfoundland area will be under operational direction of FONF.
- U.S. Navy continues to furnish air coverage for the Greenland convoys from the Greenland terminal.
- The U.S. Navy is not obligated to provide any air coverage from Greenland for the North Atlantic Trade Convoys.
- The airfields in Greenland are available to British and Canadian aircraft in case of an emergency.8
At that time it was anticipated that only sufficient United States Navy aircraft would be maintained in Greenland to meet the commitment of providing air protection to Greenland convoys, miscellaneous Greenland shipping, and incidental local anti-submarine protection. It was felt that four United States Navy planes could handle the job and three Venturas (PV-1s) and one PBY-5A were accordingly to be based n Greenland. The United States Navy had not assumed any commitments regarding Army rescue operations during the coming season, and in the event that such a task should be assigned, additional planes were to be provided to meet the circumstances. Brainard also told Admiral Smith,
Your air operations in relation to Army air operations by Army aircraft permanently stationed in Greenland will be on a basis of mutual cooperation as in the past. Any Army aircraft of the Anti-Submarine Command which may be stationed temporarily in Greenland to meet a threatening submarine situation will be under the operational control of these commands from whence the planes are temporarily transferred.9
Therefore, in the light of what has gone before it was not considered that it would be necessary to enlarge the Naval Aircraft establishment in Greenland, as Admiral Smith had recommended. About a week later Commander Greenland Patrol was informed that he had full authority for the operation of United States Navy aircraft in Greenland, and since four amphibians which had been guarding the Army ferry route
were authorized to be withdrawn on 15 September, and as the Navy had no commitments regarding Army rescue operations, Commander Task Force 24 told him to inform the necessary Army authorities accordingly.10
Although no mention had been made of it, Admiral Brainard must have been for some time in poor health and then have taken a turn for the worse, for on 2 May he was relieved by Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf and ordered to the Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. for treatment and medical survey. The responsibilities of Commander Task Force 24 were now to rest temporarily for an interim period of seven months on the shoulders of Admiral Oldendorf, till he was relieved late in November by Rear Admiral E. H. Smith.
1. CTF 24 Op Plan No. 1-43 sec. ser. 0017 of 28 January 1943. For Task Organization and related material of this plan see Appendix "E". 2. Conf. memo from Brainard's C/S Wooldridge to CTF 24 (no serial, no date) included as enclosure in personal letter from CTF 24 to CinClant, 3 February, 1943. 3. Sec. personal ltr. from VAdm. Brainard of 3 Feb. 1943 to Adm. Ingersoll. 4. Sec. personal ltr. from VAdm. Brainard of 8 Feb. 1943 to RAdm. W. S . DeLany 5. Atlantic Convoy Conference-1 Report, Appendix "A" P.4, 1-12 March, 1943. 6. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 0059 of 16 April 1943 to CinC CNWAC. 7. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 0059 of 16 April 1943 to CinC CNWAC. 8. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 0064 of 22 April 1943 to ComGreenPat. 9. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 0064 to ComGreenPat 22 April, 1943. 10. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 0073 to ComGreenPat 28 April 1943
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