Admiral Jerauld Wright's Task Group 51.2, the Demonstration Group, loaded at Saipan before feinting landings on the southeastern beaches of Okinawa while the actual assault debarked on the Hagushi beaches on the western coast. Between 1 and 26 March his ships received service and conducted rehearsals. Though the force represented the largest concentration--more than 100--thus far staged at Saipan, the various supply agencies were able to fill their requirements except for a few minor items.
Activities at Saipan and Ulithi
Many of the LST's assigned to this group were late in arriving from Iwo Jima. Some had casualties aboard which had to be debarked at Guam. Eleven medium landing ships did not arrive for loading until 24 March, 24 hours before the scheduled departure of the tractor group to which they belonged. Fortunately their material condition was good and all were ready on time.
Every effort was made to keep informed of the status of procurement by vessels, of all categories of material, so that critical items could be obtained or expedited as necessary to meet departure dates. This was complicated by the fact that the various activities involved--Service Squadron Ten Task Group, Representative C, and supply centers ashore--were widely separated. Besides, boating conditions were bad, strong winds blowing almost continuously, but in general, supplies unobtainable at Saipan were procurable at Guam.
Cane or other large ship fenders were almost nonexistent in the forward area, so, to avoid transporting large quantities of this item by air, 800 worn-out truck tires were obtained and 60 of them issued to each attack transport and attack cargo vessel for use as fenders. Also, piling was furnished each such ship for assembling four 8-foot camels per ship. To obtain sufficient cordage for requirements, after delivery of all that was available in the Marianas, Representative C of Squadron Ten had to ask delivery by air from Pearl of 34 coils of 8-inch line, 30 of 6 and 50 of 5-inch, all to reach Saipan by the 22d. They came substantially as requested.
As was true in other cases, much repairing had to be done quickly. Captain Rhoads performed an outstanding job of making the task force vessels ready for the operation. As they arrived they were inspected by the material officer, Lieutenant Commander Hazeltine, for determination of needed repairs. Availability for repair and drydocking was then decided. Work was undertaken by the destroyer tender Hamul, repair ship Vestal, battle-damage repair ship Phaon, internal-combustion-engine repair ship Luzon, submarine tender Fulton, and floating docks ARD-25 and AFD-17. Special spares not available for machinery repairs were immediately requested by Rhoads from the nearest sources available and arrived to complete ships on schedule. Drydock facilities for small craft in Saipan's inner harbor were severely overtaxed, and drydocking operations were retarded by rough, heavy swells which at times suspended operations.
Fuel and water replenishments began 9 March on the staging vessels. On the 10th the shore-station fuel officer reported two 10,000-barrel tanks ready for use, but that fueling line to the piers would not be completed until the 20th. Meanwhile the Whippet discharged fuel alongside to ships in the harbor, and the Patuxent, though undergoing repairs due to an explosion, carried out fueling assignments as usual. Among the oilers present were Niobrara and Enoree, assisted by several gasoline tankers and unclassified craft. The tanker supply proved adequate. The Tombigbee came from Iwo to assist in watering the amphibious craft, leaving with Task Group 51.8 on 25 March for Okinawa. When the others departed the 27th, Whippet accompanied them.
Provisioning was done from the supply depot ashore and from the merchant steamers Antigua and Cape Lopez, 102 vessels of the group being provisioned by 22 March. For ammunitioning, the Mazama was sent from Ulithi to Saipan with a cargo for the "amphibs."
The Demonstration Group moved from Saipan to Okinawa in two sections; the first, the Tractor Group, 26 March, the second 51.2.1, Transport Unit Charlie, the 27th. Nothing happened to either. The Seaplane Base Group, Task Group 51.20, assembled at Saipan 22 March, conducted logistic services, and left for Kerama Retto the 23d.
Most of the preinvasion activities centered about Ulithi, where major forces of the Fifth Fleet assembled during March for regrouping and
replenishment. On the 13th, 647 ships were at anchor; on the peak day, because of the arrival of the amphibious forces staging through, 722. As a result of this concentration, Squadron Ten's service load was extremely heavy. On 2 large repair ships were available; one, the Jason, receiving 2,359 job orders for the month, 223 of them on 10 March.
The first large group to be replenished was Task Force 58, the Fast Carrier Force. Task Groups 58.1-2-3 arrived from Iwo 4 March, following Task Group 58.4, which had arrived on the first. On the 9th the cruiser Indianapolis came in with Admiral Spruance, ComFifthFleet. He then ordered the Enterprise group, operating as a night carrier force off Iwo, to return to Ulithi for replenishment and to be ready for sea 14 March with the rest of the fleet.
While en route to Ulithi as part of Task Group 58.1, the destroyers Ringgold and Yarnall collided in the early hours of 4 March while conducting night battle drills. Ringgold's bow was sheared off to frame 22 and she was badly damaged to frames 26 port and 38 starboard. Yarnall's bow was bent to the right about 20° and elevated about 30°, the break starting at about frame 30. The fleet tug Molala went to the assistance of the cripples, while the destroyers Sigsbee and Shroeder acted as screen. Molala too Yarnall in tow stern-first, and with Ringgold and Sioux and the two screen destroyers, proceeded toward Ulithi. Next day, 6 March, Yarnall's bow broke clear and sank, which made towing easiest. On the 14th, she entered ARD-23 for the construction of a false bow, which was built to about 3 feet above water. Then the ship went alongside the Prairie for completion of the work.
The Ringgold went alongside the Cascade, which installed a temporary bow extending 16 feet forward of frame 26. Docking schedules made it necessary to complete above-water repairs before the underwater section could be installed. "It was in the nature of building the roof of a house before the walls and foundations," reported Commodore Carter. On 27 March Ringgold was docked in ARD-15 for completion of the work. Early in April she went to Pearl for permanent repairs, Yarnall to Mare Island Navy Yard.
A greater loss by far occurred on the evening of 11 March, when the carrier Randolph was attacked by a suicide plane which crashed the starboard edge of the after end of the flight deck, tearing a 40-foot hole in it, wrecking part of the hangar deck beneath, destroying 14 and damaging 10 aircraft, causing 134 casualties (26 killed, 3 missing, 105 wounded), and setting the ship on fire. Commodore Carter immediately ordered tugs and the salvage vessel Current to fight the fire. Current went
alongside the port quarter and the tug Chickasaw on the starboard, both playing water effectively on the fire. When Current moved away, the fleet tug Munsee, with 6 streams, and the big harbor tug YTB-384, replaced her. The fleet tugs Apache and Molala then came up, but by now neither was able to get close enough to be very effective.
The fire was confined to the Randolph's stern from main to flight decks. Continuous explosions occurred, presumably from 40mm. ready boxes. One small harbor tug and 3 YTB's were close in under the flight deck of the carrier, doing effective work. Here the small fire fighters had distinct advantage over the larger tugs held off by the overhang of the flight deck. As the approach to the fire was upwind, smoke, sparks, and slat water were blown down on all ships as they approached the stern. Disregarding their own danger and courageously working to save the big fellow, these tugs, with the Randolph's own crew, got the fire under control. At daylight only a few smoldering embers remained.
Though ships were partially darkened at Ulithi, a certain amount of shielded illumination was permitted for cargo handling and other night carrier activities; also on deck shielded movies were shown in the interest of morale. On the balmy evening of 11 March, pleasant topside but stuffy below decks, a motion picture was being shown on the forecastle of the Ocelot, Carter's flagship. The program had just started. Preceding the feature was a short subject, in this case one of those community singing affairs in which audience joins in the chorus, keeping time with the bouncing ball on the screen. The song was "Red River Valley," and officers and men were vocalizing lustily when a plane flying at masthead height roared over in the darkness, drowning out the music. Many ducked their heads, and a few were heard to imprecate some "damn Army flier" who had the crust to zoom ships at anchor--though there was no Army flier nearer than Guam. But with the explosion on the Randolph, another on nearby Sorlen Island, the sounding of the general quarters alarm howlers, the true situation became apparent. Japanese suicide planes had attacked. There were two, possibly three, twin-engined planes, one of which hit the Randolph, another crashing on Sorlen, evidently mistaking that slim bit of atoll fringe for another big carrier. One must have come very close to the Ocelot, for next morning the commission pennant was reported missing. The same plane passed over Spruance's flagship, the Indianapolis, also having on-deck movies.
Although the various departments of ServRon Ten could estimate with fair accuracy the requirements of a fast-carrier-force replenishment, it was obviously of much greater value to learn as far as possible in advance
more exact needs, particularly in the unpredictable category of repairs and replacement aircraft. The task-group commander at sea making strikes on the enemy but not wishing to break radio silence to transmit supply and work lists to ServRon Ten, flew in such lists by special messenger to arrive ahead of the group. These officers sometimes reached Ulithi a day or two earlier, sometimes only three or four hours, before the carrier groups. The list of logistic requirements was handed to the chief staff officer, who passed them to the heads of the departments concerned. Even though on occasion very short advance notice was received of the needs, this preparatory time was valuable in scheduling services, especially if the visit of the task groups was limited to only 4 days, during which they had to rearm, replenish completely, and receive replacement aircraft before departing to make further strikes against the enemy. During early March three officer messengers were flown in: Lieutenant Sullivan from Task Group 58.1; Lieutenant John Roosevelt, son of the President, from Task Group 58.2; and Lieutenant Commander Brenner from Task Group 58.3.
Provisioning of Task Force 58 for Okinawa was conducted by Service Squadron Ten according to schedules set up the squadron supply officer, copies of which schedules were distributed to the force upon arrival. Destroyers were service by tenders to which they were assigned. They made requests to the tender which repeated them to proper squadron departments for items not in the tenders. Fuel and ammunition came direct from the squadron service vessels. Other ships were issued clothing and small stores, ships store stock, general stores form the supply ships Castor, Rutilicus, and Caelum and from the concrete barges Trefoil and Quartz. Medical stores came from the first three and air-mail stamps and envelopes were supplied by the Quartz. For the week ending 10 March the Quartz issued 33 tons of clothing and 400 tons of stores. The Trefoil issued 1,053 tons to 325 ships in the same period. Issues were made on an around-the-clock 24-hour basis, each receiving vessel providing 5 checkers and a working party of 35 under the charge of officer or petty officer.
A representative of Commander Naval Air Bases was stationed aboard the aircraft stores ship Fortune to coordinate requests for material, replacement aircraft, and air crews. Delivery to the carriers was made by ServRon Ten boats and barges. The concrete Corundum supplied radio, radar, underwater sound, and ordnance spare parts.
Ammunition was issued from naval and merchant ammunition ships and lighters. The Mazama issued to several battleships before leaving
for Saipan. Throughout March the Mount Baker and Rainier serviced the forces replenishing at Ulithi, the former issued 3,789 tons, the latter 3,320. Ammunition lighter YF-691 carried out routine reenergizing and refuzing of antiaircraft projectiles on board. A steady stream of merchant ammunition carriers poured into Ulithi in the early March to rearm the carriers, among them the Manderson Victory, Bucyrus Victory, Mayfield Victory, Red Oak Victory (these four now being commissioned AKE's). Meridian Victory, and Elmira Victory. Besides servicing Task Force 58, these ships discharged into the four ammunition ships Lassen, Mauna Loa, Shasta, and Wrangell, which were being loaded to sortie with the Logistic Support Group on 13 March.
Assisting the food ships Aldebaran and Polaris in supplying fresh and dry provisions were the cargo ship Rutilicus and merchantman Cape Pilar. Fleet allowance of consumption of fresh and frozen provisions per 1,000 men was 21,176 pounds frozen and 30,823 pounds fresh monthly, or 13/4 cubic feet per man per month. The amusing rumpus over shortage of black pepper that arose at this time would have made a good comic opera theme. There was such a howl in Task Force 58 that almost half a ton--894 tons exactly--had to be proportionately rationed among the ships before the growling stopped.
Arrangements for fuel, lubricants, and water were handled by the fuel section on the oiler Sepulga, which with all other oilers had moored in the southern anchorage for smoother water servicing. The Sabine and Aucilla served the carriers, Marias and Platte the battleships. Cruisers, as they entered the harbor, went alongside the Taluga and Sepulga and two other oilers, two cruisers to each. Destroyers and destroyer escorts were fueled the same way as they entered, by the Cowanesque, Aucilla, Chotauk, Elk, and Malvern. On the 3d ten merchant tankers arrived to replenish the fleet oilers, bringing combined cargoes of 909,000 barrels of Navy special and 110,000 barrels of Diesel fuel, but no aviation gasoline. One of the 10, the Hanging Rock, was sent next day to Leyte. On the 4th, 4 merchant tankers from San Pedro and Balboa brought 307,000 barrels of Navy special, 50,000 barrels of Diesel oil, and 3,098,000 gallons of aviation gasoline. On the 14th, when the carrier force sailed, 14 oilers also departed to provide replenishment at sea for them. Because of a temporary delay in merchant tanker deliveries at Ulithi, Admiral Spruance warned Task Force 58 to conserve fuel.
Service Squadron Ten's Maintenance Division worked around the clock to effect repairs before the task force put to sea. Four tenders serviced the destroyers and destroyer escorts--the Cascade, Prairie, Piedmont,
and Yosemite. The two large repair ships, the Ajax and Jason, and one small one, the Nestor, were taxed to capacity. Docking facilities for destroyers were furnished by ARD-13, ARD-15, and ARD-23. Final logistics for Amphibious Group Four, which had assembled at Guadalcanal, were given at Ulithi between 21 and 27 March, with a schedule similar to that worked out for the fast carrier force. As before, all but the destroyers were serviced direct from stores ships, and the destroyers from their tenders. The others drew clothing and general supplies the day they were scheduled for provisioning. Supply officers were notified to present all requisitions during the one issuing period, since time and facilities permitted only one issue for each ship. Stores came from the two IX's, Trefoil and Quartz, medical stores from the cargo ships Ascella and Azimech. The concrete Silica gave fresh, frozen, and dry provisions to the smaller ships, while all others got their fresh and frozen supplies from the merchant refrigerator ship Trade Wind, and dry from the Rutilicus. The fresh and frozen were issued only in balanced 5-ton units, ranging from 4 units to attack transports down to 1/20th unit for the little YMS's, the motor mine sweepers.
Water at Ulithi was limited, and was issued only to ships whose evaporators were inoperable. The situation was such that ships leaving Ulithi for Pearl or home ports were requested to inform the fuel section, at least 12 hours before leaving, of the amount of water carried in excess of requirements, so it could be picked up and added to the supply stock.
Besides furnishing ammunition to departing ships, Service Squadron Ten loaded three cargo ships, the Bucyrus Victory, Las Vegas Victory, and Lakewood Victory, and also the ammunition vessel Firedrake, with balanced issue loads to be sent forward on the 25th to join Admiral Beary's Logistic Support Group. However, the latter two remained in Ulithi in a stand-by status until ordered forward early in April by ComFifthFleet. Nine LST's were loaded with bombardment ammunition to go to Kerama Retto, but one, because of a fire resulting from the ignition of a 14-inch powder charge, did not sail with the others on 22 March.
As always at Ulithi, the assistance given by the atoll commander, Commodore O.O. Kessing, was to the extent of his facilities in boats, mail, personnel, and recreation. His port director's office was going full blast day and night, as was his boat-repair unit. The amount of mail handled by the fleet post office on Asor Island was tremendous. Service Squadron Ten helped somewhat in this by supplying storage and delivery vessels. At Mog Mog Island a very creditable fleet recreation facility had been built up which, considering the small size of the island
and the thousands of men and officers who went ashore, was well supplied and managed.
On 27 March, servicing of ships for the Okinawa operation was completed with the departure of the Northern Attack Force. Other Fifth Fleet units which had replenished at Ulithi were the Amphibious Support Force consisting of fire-support ships of gunfire and covering force, carriers and aircraft of Task Group 52.1, mine sweepers of Task Group 52.2, and one section of the underwater demolition group. These departed in echelons between 19 and 21 March. One of the greatest logistic jobs in naval history had been accomplished on schedule.
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