Chapter I
Pre-World War II

From 7 December1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, until they admitted defeat in August 1945, our fleet continuously grew. During those stirring and difficult times, the accounts of ship actions, air strikes, and amphibious operations make up the thrilling combat history of the Pacific theater. Linked inseparably with combat is naval logistic support, the support which makes available to the fleet such essentials as ammunition, fuel, food, repair services--in short, all the necessities, at the proper time and place and in adequate amounts. This support, from advanced bases and from floating mobile service squadrons and groups, maintained the fleet and enabled it to take offensive action farther from home supply points than was ever before thought possible, and this is the story which will be told here. But before telling this story, let us examine some of the ideas and accomplishments of fleet logistics in the years before World War II.

The advantages of logistics afloat and near the fleet operating area had long been recognized by many naval commanders, and no doubt by others who gave the matter analytical thought. There was some selfish opposition to its development by local politicians, merchants, and shipyards because of the wish to keep the activities where the disbursements would benefit the local shore communities directly. Also, there was some opposition in naval bureaus, and there was some skepticism on the part of some officers within the naval service as to the feasibility of accomplishing many of these services afloat. For example, it took a long time to satisfy everyone of the practicality of fueling under way at sea. Also, there were those who were skeptical of the capabilities of tenders and repair ships. Such vessels were looked upon as able to accomplish a certain degree of minor repair and upkeep, but for support of any consequence a navy yard or shipyard was for years thought necessary.

During World War I, the astonishing repairs accomplished by our two destroyer tenders at Queenstown turned many doubters into enthusiasts. In fact, the whole afloat work of servicing the destroyers at


Queenstown, a place with a very small naval shore establishment, was a praiseworthy accomplishment along lines of progress which furnished new concepts for naval consideration.

So, with the retrenchment and curtailment of naval appropriations and the transfer of the principal part of the U.S. Fleet to the west coast after World War I, the Base Force was formed as part of the fleet. This was, in fact, the beginning of the Service Force and its duty was service to the fleet, although it continued to be called the Base Force until the United States entered World War II. In concept and principle it was sound, and its organization for the work then deemed practical was good. As a result, valuable and efficient services were rendered to the fleet, and some ideas of greater future accomplishments took root. The fuel-oil tankers, fresh and frozen-food ships, repair ships, fleet tugs, and target repair ships were administered and operated by the Commander Base Force. Ammunition ships were administered and usually operated by Naval Operations (OpNav). The navy-yard schedule for overhaul was arranged but the allotment of funds for the work was controlled by the type commanders.

The destroyer tenders and submarine tenders were not administered or operated by the Base Force, and only occasional servicing jobs, either of emergency nature or beyond the capacity of the tenders, were performed directly on destroyers and submarines by the Base Force ships. The term "directly" is used because the Base Force often supplied the tenders with fuel, food, and ammunition, with which they in turn served the destroyers and submarines.

The Base Force also made arrangements for water and for garbage disposal, and usually ran the shore patrol. The distribution of the enlisted personnel was, in varying degrees (depending upon the ideas of the Commander in Chief), handled by the Base Force.

The flagship of the Commander Base Force (Rear Admiral J.V. Chase1) was a temporary one, the old fleet flagship Connecticut. She was soon scrapped. A Hog Island cargo vessel, the Procyon, which for a short time after World War I had been used as a target repair ship, was assigned and designs for her alteration to meet the administrative-staff requirements were tentatively drawn and sent with the ship from Norfolk to Mare Island Navy Yard, where the work was to be done. There was little or no knowledge or experience to draw upon these requirements.


Theory did not suffice, and practically new designs had to be drawn up with the assistance of Chase's staff after the arrival of the Procyon at Mare Island. When the work was well under way, the Board of Inspection and Survey chose that time to make its inspection of the Board that these alterations were necessary and should be completed. This further illustrates how little this logistic business of the Navy was understood.

The fleet air arm was a separate organization, with its own tenders and furnishing its own services, although while assigned for photographic, target, and some observation work the planes received temporary servicing from the Base Force. The aircraft tenders, like those of the destroyers and submarines, received some services from the Base Force which in turn were passed on to the planes. When the Langley, Lexington, and Saratoga joined the fleet, the Base Force took on the principal part of the responsibility for their fuel, food, and gun ammunition and made arrangements for regularly scheduled overhauls. All special equipment and planes, and many alterations due to experimental changes and improvements, were handled direct through the bureaus without reference to the Base Force.

Fueling under way at sea was instituted as part of the annual exercises, and fuel connections were designed and installed and "at sea" rigs were supplied in order to carry out this part of the schedule. Fueling under way at sea was then looked upon somewhat as an emergency stunt which might have to be resorted to in wartime, and therefore probably required occasional practice. Few ever thought it would become so routine a matter that it would be accomplished with ease in all kinds of weather except gales.

The era was one of rapid change and progress. In 1925 the operating force of the Navy consisted of 234 vessels, including 17 battleships, 15 cruisers of different types, a second-line carrier and 2 second-line mine layers, 6 destroyer-minelayers, 103 destroyers, 80 submarines, 1 fleet submarine in an experimental stage of development, and 9 patrol gunboats. To service these units afloat we had 75 other craft: Oilers, colliers, tenders, repair ships, store ships, 1 ammunition ship and 1 hospital ship, 25 mine sweepers, 2 transports, 8 fleet tugs, and miscellaneous small craft, a total of promising size. A good start had been made, the principal objections to formation of this element of the Navy had been overcome, and the Base Force had been established as a definite part of the United States forces afloat.


Unfortunately, just as we were ready to move to further accomplishment the depression years arrived, funds were severely restricted, and the Base Force came to a slowdown without opportunity for improvement and advancement in operating technique. This period was immediately followed by the Roosevelt years of emergency. The sudden expansion of all categories of naval personnel left little opportunity for anything but the fundamentals. In consequence, not great advance in Base Force technique or organizational coordination of fleet logistics was made until the war was in its second year.

The Navy Department knew that expansion of the fleet called for a proper balance in its auxiliaries; but, because of the lack of detailed knowledge, there was no sound formula for finding that balance. So it was estimate and guess, with the authorizations always a little on the light side because of the need for combat units whose construction alone would tax the capacity of the building plants. As a result, in 1940 the operating force consisted of 344 fighting ships, and to service them afloat 120 auxiliaries of various types. While in the 15 years from 1925 to 1940, destroyers, cruisers, and carriers had more than doubled in numbers, the auxiliaries had not. The most notable increase had been in seaplane tenders and oilers, but there were too few of the latter to permit their being kept with the operating units long enough to improve their at-sea oiling technique. Instead, they had to be kept busy ferrying oil.

During the first year of President Roosevelt's declared limited national emergency--1940--there were authorized 10 battleships, 2 carriers, 8 light cruisers, 41 destroyers, 28 submarines, a mine layer, 3 subchasers, and 32 motor torpedo boats--a total of 125 combat fleet units. Because of the lack of logistic knowledge and foresight, the auxiliaries ordered to service this formidable new fleet numbered only 12: 1 destroyer tender, 1 repair ship, 2 submarine tenders, and 2 large and 6 small seaplane tenders. The war plans, it is true, included the procurement and conversion of merchant ships for auxiliary and patrol purposes, but nothing came of this provision. Because of the shortage of merchant shipping, little could be done without causing injury elsewhere.

That same year--1940--the Oakland, Calif., Supply Depot was acquired, and the existing port storage depots at several points, notably San Diego, Calif., Bayonne, N.J., and Pearl Harbor, T.H., were expanded. Still no one seemed to give much consideration to the delivery and distribution of supplies to ships not at those bases to receive them. The Base Force war plans for an overseas movement visualized two somewhat vague schemes. One was that the fleet would fight at


once upon arrival in distant or advanced waters and gain a quick victory (or te completely defeated), and the base would be hardly more than a fueling rendezvous before the battle. Afterward (if victorious), with the enemy defeated there would be plenty of time to provide everything. The other idea was that the advanced location would be seized, the few available repair and supply vessels would be based there, and the remaining necessary facilities would be constructed ashore. The action there was no assurance that the base could b e held with the fleet not present. On the other hand, the fleet if present could not be serviced without adequate floating facilities while necessary construction was being accomplished ashore. So the idea of fleet logistics afloat was becoming more and more firmly rooted; only time was needed to make it practical, as our knowledge and experience were still so meager that we had little detailed conception of our logistic needs. Even when someone with a vivid imagination hatched an idea, he frequently was unable to substantiate it to the planning experts and it was likely to be set down as wild exaggeration. How little we really knew in 1940 as compared with 1945 shows in a comparison of the service forces active at both times.

In 1940 the Base Force Train included a total of 51 craft of all types, among them 1 floating drydock of destroyer capacity. By 1945 the total was 315 vessels, every one of them needed. The 14 oilers which were all the Navy owned in 1940 had leaped to 62, in addition to merchant tankers which brought huge cargoes of oil, aviation gasoline, and Diesel fuel to bases where the Navy tankers took them on board for distribution to the fleet. No less than 21 repair ships of various sizes had supplanted the 2 the Navy had 5 years before. The battleships had 3 floating drydocks, the cruisers 2, and the destroyers 9, while small craft had 16. Hospital ships had risen from 1 to 6, and in addition there were 3 transport evacuation vessels, while the ammunition ships numbered 14, plus 28 cargo carriers and 8 LST's (Landing Ship, Tanks). The number of combatant ships had increased materially, and it is natural to ask if the auxiliaries should not have increased comparably. The answer is, of course, yes. But the increase of combatant ships had been visualized, and the building programs were undertaken before the war began. It flourished with increased momentum during the early part of the war, long before the minimum auxiliary requirements could be correctly estimated and the rush of procurement started. The original planers had done their best, but it was not until the urgency for auxiliaries developed as a vital


element of the war that we fully realized what was needed, and met the demand. Merchant ships were converted whenever possible, and this, with concentrated efforts to provide drydocks and other special construction, produced every required type in numbers that would have been considered preposterous only a short time before.


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1. Admiral J.V. Chase had as his Chief of Staff, Captain W.T. Cluverius, who several years later became Commander of the Base Force. Admiral Chase was later the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation