CTF 24: ADMIRAL OLDENDORF
The events which transpired during Admiral Oldendorf's time as Commander Task Force 24 might best be described as comparatively nondescript. However despite the fact that two days before he had relieved Admiral Brainard the British and Canadians had taken over the escort of convoy responsibilities in the Western North Atlantic, Admiral Oldendorf was not without a few convoy problems. But for the most part his problems were concerned with Greenland and the establishment of minor bases, but these, compared to previous patrol and base problems, were relatively unimportant.
About the 1st of May the Commanding Officer, Greenland Base Command, had discussed informally with the Commander of the Greenland Patrol, Admiral E. H. Smith, possibilities of stationing an Army defense garrison at the Minor Naval Operating Base, Grondal, Greenland. But Smith, backed up by Commander Task Force 24, felt that since Grondal was located behind the Army defenses of Ivigtut, no additional Army defense was needed there. If there was any defense of the area occupied by the Naval Operating Base, it should be assumed by the Navy and carried out by the regularly assigned personnel of the base. With this in mind Commander Task Force 24 recommended that the policies in this matter be defined for the Chief of Staff of the Army.1
On the 8th of May Admiral Oldendorf had compiled statistics on convoy escort operations covering the period from 20 April 1942 to 2 May 1943. These statistics were for trans-Atlantic trade convoys escorted by Allied Escort Forces while west of the CHOP line, convoys escorted only by vessels of Task Four 24, and for Greenland convoys (HX, SC, ON, and ONS), averaging 40 ships per convoy. During the past year, he showed, 186 ships were sunk of those escorted by all the allied escorts. Of the twenty convoys escorted only by Task Force 24's ships -- 39.4 ships per convoy -- only 41 were sunk over the same period. The 43 Greenland convoys of 3.6 ships per convoy only lost 3 ships over the same length of time.2
These figures are standing evidence of the good job which escorts of Task Force 24 had been doing.
On 13 May Admiral Oldendorf promulgated his first Operations Plan as Commander Task Force 24; it was also the first Operation Plan that had been put out since the British and Canadians had taken over the escort responsibilities in the North Atlantic.3 As might be expected the size of the
task organization was considerably diminished, and there were now five task groups where before there had been twelve. The main body of the plan remained practically the same. This plan, No. 2-43, was later cancelled by change No. 2 on 29 June.
Although Commander Task Force 24 thought that the Navy in Greenland had no commitments for that season with regard to rescue work and the Army Ferry Command, he received information to the effect that part of the previous year's commitments still held. This said:
The Navy has arranged to provide the following assistance to the Army Ferry Command:
Two PBY-5As in Greenland (one at Bluie West-1 and one at Bluie West-8) held in readiness to assist each flight to the proper fjord for the landing field and to search for and rescue Army personnel as may be practicable in cooperation with the local Army Ferry Command.4
Admiral Oldendorf notified the Commander Fleet Air Wing 7 of this on May 22nd, stating in his letter, "Commander Greenland Patrol and Senior Officer Present Afloat, Greenland, have been informed."5 He also told the Commander of Fleet Air Wing 7, Captain Hamilton, that if he had not already done so, to make available to SOPA, Greenland the necessary facilities for carrying out the above quoted directive, and to keep him (CTF 24) informed of all pertinent
About the middle of June there was a proposed movement to use Argentia, Newfoundland, as a troop transport terminal. The reason for this was because it had been implied that enemy agents could ascertain too easily the prospective movements of transports bound for Greenland from St. John's. These agents would then transmit such intelligence to enemy forces with the result that submarines waited for the transports off the coast of Greenland and attacked when feasible. This could easily have been true, because ship sailings, no matter how secret, somehow became household conversation before the ships stood out. And in one case, two American sailors ashore in St. John's met a girl who had detailed information on the subject. They proceeded to get her drunk and in the course of her conversation she revealed several security leaks.
However, Admiral Oldendorf said that he had investigated the implications on numerous occasions but had never been able to dig up conclusive evidence that enemy agents had carried out any such procedure. He further stated that there was no secrecy of movement of ships at Argentia.
The thousands of Navy workmen on the Naval Base alone can readily hide among them any number of enemy agents. The shore line of Placentia Bay offers a ready opportunity for all who care to watch. The composition of convoys bound for Greenland must be well known to enemy forces if they have cared to take the trouble to find out. Accordingly, departure of a troop transport escorted by Coast Guard Cutters would unquestionably give
to any serious enemy agent just as valuable information as would be obtainable in St. John's.6
Because of this, and because knowledge of the Base and forces present would necessarily be given much wider distribution by having transports call and wait there, it was decided that it would not be practical to use Argentia for a transport terminal.
On June 29th Admiral Oldendorf issued Change No. 2 to Operation Plan 2-43. This did not affect the over-all task organization, but there were a good many additions within the task groups and several additions within the body of the plan. Task Group 24.2, the Service Group, now had besides its tenders, Minesweeper Division 25, and a Harbor Defense Unit made up of patrol craft. The Air Group added Patrol Squadron 63 and the Canadian Arctic Fleet Air Group to its units, as well as the tender SANDPIPER. And the Naval Operating Base, Argentia, Task Group 24.9 added units of harbor craft, Net Defense, and Fleet Repair. Also the plan now read to the effect that,
For the purpose of air coverage of North Atlantic Trade Convoys to the limit of aircraft range from bases in Iceland, make available to the Air Officer Commanding Iceland, U.S. Naval Anti-Submarine Warfare Aviation established in Iceland, as directed by him.7
This was in accordance with the provisions of Admiral Ingersoll's Operation Plan 3-42.
The Commander Fleet Air Wing 7 (CFAW-7) submitted a report of a visit to Iceland and Greenland to Commander Task Force 24 on the same day, 29 June 1943. In this he made quite a few recommendations, only several of which met with approval. One was that if additional hanger facilities were got made available, Naval Aviation Facilities be withdrawn from Iceland between 15 October and 15 March with the exception of six land planes. Another was that no seaplane operations be made from Iceland between the previously mentioned dates. With regard to Greenland, Captain Hamilton recommended that six PBY-5A aircraft be turned over to the Coast Guard for rescue and ice reconnaissance missions. Commander Task Force 24 forwarded these along with the other recommendations which he had carefully annotated to the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, on 12 July.
Admiral Oldendorf writes on the 5th of August that his Command had been advised of the ultimate withdrawal of the United States Army Air Force from anti-submarine operations in Newfoundland. As a part of the general plan, the squadron of Army B24s, then currently operating from Gander Airport were to be relieved by the 1st of September by a similar type of Navy squadron. Because of the military considerations, it was planned to operate this squadron from
Gander with no change in the existing operational control exercised in Newfoundland. The Admiral said in connection with the above: "This command has informed its immediate superior, the Commander in Chief, United States Atlantic Fleet, that local arrangements for the procurement of such facilities as necessary will be made insofar as is practicable."8 (This had to do with facilities at Gander for berthing, messing, hangar, shop, and communications.) In writing to the Commanding General, Newfoundland Base Command, on this subject, Admiral Oldendorf stated,
If the plan is approved in principle by you, it is suggested that a representative of this Command (Commander Fleet Air Wing SEVEN) confer with the appropriate authority at Gander relative to the availability and utilization of the facilities . . . Your advice and comment will be greatly appreciated.9
During 1942 Commander Greenland Patrol had obtained ten converted trawlers for the Greenland Patrol. Although they performed difficult duties, the original design, their hurried conversion, and the detached type of duty --- with little or no repair facilities --- materially affected the efficiency of their operation in the Canadian Arctic -- Greenland-Iceland area. He desired that these be replaced by a standard type Navy ship with a single screw, and pointed out,
As a start on such a program, the 180 foot cutter, tender class, is a vessel ideally fitted to carry out operations in Greenland coastal waters. These cutters could perform good service in northern waters replacing an equal number of trawlers now assigned to the
Greenland Patrol. The trawlers so relieved might then be returned to their former owners and resume fishing.10
Admiral Smith wanted the IRONWOOD when it was completed and another cutter of the same class to be assigned to the Greenland Patrol. Admiral Oldendorf was in sympathy with this request although the assignment of these ships rested ultimately with the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. However Oldendorf remarked, "Provided the exigencies of our global war permit the advantageous diversion of two Additional cutters, approval of the basic request is recommended."11
Operation Plan 3-43 came out on the 14th of September and varied only slightly from 2-43 as reorganized by Change No. 2. However in this latest plan, Commander Task Force 24 made provision for the coordination of logistic support for certain of the various military forces in the Newfoundland-Greenland Area. There was also some slight shifting around Of ships within task units; especially within the Greenland Patrol, but none of these changes amounted to very much.
Now that the Tasks of Commander Task Force 24 had been cut down to such an extent there was more personnel, especially at Naval Operating Base, Argentia, than needed
and a program of reduction was initiated. Admiral Oldendorf had a conference with the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet and together they decided to cancel certain non-essential construction projects. On 17 September Admiral Oldendorf informed Admiral Ingersoll that this construction work had been either cancelled or the mechanics therefore had been undertaken. Work had actually ceased. This left only the question of the reduction of personnel. No specific directives as to the future mission of the Naval Operating Base, Argentia had been issued, so Admiral Oldendorf assigned one of his own. This was,
- To complete construction of authorized construction projects.
- To furnish direct support to a task force consisting of two major ships (BB, CV, CA) plus six destroyers and an average force of four ocean escort vessels (DD or smaller.)
- To furnish support to one squadron of large patrol planes operating on combat missions.12
Then on the basis of this, Commander Task Force 24 sent the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, a complete breakdown on Officer and enlisted personnel attached to Naval Operating Base, Argentia, showing what percentage of them could be reduced. He further informed the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, that every effort would be made to increase the reduction of assigned personnel as experience showed the possibility.
During the Spring and early summer of 1943 Task Unit 24.8.5 of the Greenland Patrol composed of the NORTHLAND, commanded by Captain C. C. von Paulsen, USCG and the NORTH STAR, commanded by Lieutenant Commander H. T. Diehl, USCG, Went on an expedition to the Northeast Greenland area. This task unit, under Captain von Paulsen was directed to search out and eliminate any German installations in Northwest Greenland and establish a station of the so-called "Sledge-Patrol"13 as a site selected at Myggbugta. Evidence of German occupation was found at several places despite attempts to cover up traces, and the NORTH STAR had a brush with a German plane, possibly having damaged it. On the 8th of October after the return of the expedition, Commander Greenland Patrol recommended the establishment of a high frequency direction finding station on Jan Mayen Island to locate the position of transmitting enemy weather stations. Because of a scarcity of materials Admiral King rejected this idea at first, but reconsidered later on, and on 22 October authorized its establishment.14 On 1 November permission was granted to the United States Government by
Norwegian Government in London to build this radio direction finder station on Jan Mayan Island. There were certain legal stipulations but they were eventually worked Out to the agreement of all parties concerned. Official permission was granted Admiral Smith through the Chief of Naval Operations on 6 November to proceed with his plans on this project. This northernmost Naval activity would make the process of smoking the Germans out of Greenland during the summer season a much more easy and sure fire process.
The problem of additional ships for the Greenland Patrol was still adrift, and on 9 November we find Admiral Oldendorf again writing the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet. Commander Greenland Patrol was to have submitted a comment on present and prospective needs of ships for the Greenland Patrol, via Oldendorf, to Ingersoll. However Admiral Oldendorf considered that Admiral Smith's basic letter, plus his own endorsement, would be sufficient since all the necessary information was in the basic letter. Commander Task Force 24 pointed out that "In view of the prospective assumption Of command of Task Force TWENTY-FOUR by Admiral Smith, his recommendations as contained in the basic letter warrant more than customary consideration."15 However Admiral Oldendorf recommended against any radical increase in the Greenland Patrol for the following reasons:
The strategic situation in the Northwest Atlantic area is one of rapidly decreasing enemy strength. No appreciable change in this condition can reasonably be foreseen.
The strategic situation in several other theatres of war would appear to call for every bit of naval strength which can be spared from the Northwest Atlantic.
For two years the Greenland Patrol has operated efficiently and effectively with vessels as assigned. There is every reason to believe that it will be able to continue to do so with the vessels currently assigned.Accordingly, Admiral Oldendorf made the following recommendations:
That replacement be made as found necessary and that such decision be based on the merits of each individual case. The only replacements at present recommended are:
- Three WIND class cutters be substituted for the NORTHLAND, NORTH STAR, and BEAR.
- The converted trawlers be replaced only if their return to fishing operations is called for by higher authority.16
The last Operations Plan to be put out by Admiral Oldendorf, No. 4-43, came out on 15 November, 1943. The Iceland Group under Commodore Wentworth, which had been designated 26.6 since the British and Canadians took over Northwestern Atlantic convoy responsibilities, had now returned to the fold of CTF 24. This group was to "defend Iceland in cooperation with the United States Army and with
the British and Allied Forces in accordance with approved agreements"; also to "employ the Naval Operating Base and Naval Air Facility in accordance with current directives".17
On 25 November 1943 Rear Admiral J. B. Oldendorf was detached and relieved of command of Task Force TWENTY-FOUR by Rear Admiral E. H. Smith, USCG, and the command of Task Force TWENTY-FOUR moved on into its fourth generation of Admirals.
1. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 0088 of 8 May 1943 to Vice CNO. 2. CTF 24 sec. ltr, ser. 0089 of 8 May 1943 to CinClant. 3.
CTF 24 Op Plan No. 2-43 sec. ser. 0096.
24.2 Service Group
24.3 Air Group - Captain Hamilton, U.S.N.
24.5 Weather Patrol Group - DCGO, Boston.
24.8 Greenland Patrol - Rear Admiral Smith, USCG.
24.9 NOB, Argentia - Captain Nelson, USN.
4. Cominch sec. memo ser. 00445 of 1 June 1942. 5. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 0098 of 22 May 1943 to ComFlt AirWing 7. 6. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 00107 of 14 June 1943 to CinClant. 7. CTF 24 Op Plan No. 2-43, change No. 2, sec. ser. 00112 of 29 June 1943. 8. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 00134 of 5 August 1943 to Commanding General, NBC. 9. Ibid. 10. ComGreenPat sec. ltr. ser. 00411 of 25 August 1943 via CTF 24 to CinClant. 11. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 00153 of 14 September 1943 to CinClant. 12. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 00157 of 17 September 1943 to CinClant. 13. This Sledge Patrol was initiated and organized by the Commander of the Greenland Patrol, Admiral E. H. Smith, during the summer of 1941. It ultimately came under U.S. Army sponsorship and filled a very obvious need. Its personnel consists of Danes, for the most part trappers, who have lived in the country. 14. Cominch sec. despatch ser. 181836 of October 1943 to ComGreenPat. 15. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 00183 of 9 November 1943 to CinClant. 16. CTF 24 sec. ltr. ser. 00183 of 9 November 1943 to CinClant. 17.
CTF 24 Op Plan 4-43 sec. ser. 00188 of 15 November 1943.
24.4 Iceland Group:
24.4.1 NOB, Iceland.
24.4.3 28th Construction Battalion.
24.4.6 Naval Air Facility.
24.4.7 Iceland Fleet Air Group.
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