Chapter IV
In the South Pacific

Taking the Offensive--Guadalcanal--Logistic Outlook

With the defeat of the Japanese at Midway a more nearly even balance of forces was accomplished, and it was time for us to attempt to take the initiative, to seize the offensive if possible. This was certain to be bitterly contested by the enemy, who might still hope to gain the upper hand if his South Pacific drive could be won. It was natural that this was where we must next stop and defeat him, so the Guadalcanal offensive was planned.

In April 1942, principal commands in the Pacific were:

  1. Pacific Ocean Area, Admiral C.W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief. This was further divided into two subordinate commands, the North and South Pacific.

  2. Southwest Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander Allied Forces.

  3. Southeast Pacific Area, a region of patrol command principally for security.

Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley since May 1942 had been Commander South Pacific. As such, he was charged with the conduct of the Guadalcanal operation under the over-all direction of Admiral Nimitz. Late in July 1942, not counting attack transports, which are considered combatant vessels, we had 15 logistic vessels there. The repair ship Rigel was at Auckland, N.A. At Tongatabu were the destroyer tender Whitney, hospital ship Solace, stores ship Antares, the fresh and forzen food ships Aldebaran and Talamanca, the ammunition ship Rainier, and two district patrol craft, YP-284 and YP-290, both with provisions. Two more YP's, the 230 and 346, were at Efate in New Hebrides. The seaplane tender Curtiss and the two small plane tenders McFarland and Mackinac, the former a converted destroyer, based at Noumea, New


Caledonia, while the limited repair ship Argonne sailed 10 July from Pearl for Auckland.

Besides these, the fleet oilers Cimarron and Platte were to be at Tongatabu to supply oil for the amphibious force ships staging there late in July, and the fleet oiler Kaskaskia was scheduled to leave Pearl 20 July. At Noumea there were to be 225,000 barrels of fuel oil brought by chartered tankers, and the same amount about 2 August. Over at Tongatabu the old, slow Navy tanker Kanawha (Commander K.S. Reed), with a capacity of 75,000 barrels, was a station oiler.

The chartered tanker Mobilube arrived at Tongatabu 10 July, but after fuel had been pumped from her into Rear Admiral Noyes' Wasp group of Task Force Eighteen, Rear Admiral Kinkaid's Enterprise group of Task Force Sixteen, and two of the transports, the President Adams and President Hayues, she pumped the rest of her cargo into the Kanawha and left for San Pedro 27 July.

The vital importance of an adequate supply of fuel, and its timely and properly allocated delivery to the vessels of the South Pacific for the campaign about to begin, was clearly recognized by Admiral Ghormley. The distances involved, the scarcity of tankers, and the consumption of oil by task forces operating at high speeds made the solution of this logistic problem difficult enough if the normal operating consumption was used for estimates. But what would constitute "normal" when the offensive was under way? Even more difficult to resolve was the margin of safety to cover unforeseen losses, excesses, or changes in operations. Furthermore, though Ghormley foresaw the situation and tried to anticipate it, his logistic planners were too few and had too little experience. That he had his fuel requirements constantly in mind is shown by his dispatches to Admiral Nimitz. Another thing that worried him was the lack of destroyers for adequate escort and protection of his tankers even when he had the latter. This shortage of destroyers was felt by the task force commanders also, and had considerable influence on all the operations.

In a dispatch of 9 July 1942 Admiral Nimitz said to Ghormley that he, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet, would supply the logistic support for the campaign. Arrangements, he stated, had been made to have the oilers Cimarron and Platte accompany Task Force Eleven leaving Pearl for the South Pacific, and that the Kaskaskia would leave soon after about 20 July. The Kanawhawould fuel Task Force Eighteen and then go to Noumea. The chartered tankers already mentioned as bringing 450,000 barrels of fuel to the port would be followed by others with


about 225,000 barrels a month for the carrier task force. Nimitz also promised other requirements, such as aviation gasoline, Diesel fuel, and stores for the task force, would be supplied as Ghormley requested.

All this sounded like a comfortable amount of fuel oil, and based upon past experience, no doubt seemed liberal to the estimators. But past experience was not good enough. To begin with, the Cimarron and Platte had fueled Task Force Eleven on its run down from Pearl. On 21 July the Platte was ordered to pump her remaining oil into the Cimarron, proceed to Noumea, and refill there form the waiting chartered tankers. She took aboard 93,000 barrels of that oil and rejoined Task Force Eleven.

On 28 July Admiral Ghormley ordered the ammunition ship Rainier (Captain W.W. Meek) and the tanker Kanawha to leave Tongatabu and proceed to the west side of Koro Island in the Fiji group. The ships were to arrive, escorted by Turner's amphibious Task Force Sixty-two, at the earliest practical time during daylight. The fleet tanker Kaskaskia was also ordered there to supply the needs of the Task Force which was to rendezvous there before proceeding to Guadalcanal.

The next day Ghormley ordered the commanding general on Tongatabu to load the coal-burning Morinda with one hundred 1,000-pound bombs, four hundred 500-pounders, and one hundred 100-pounders from the stocks available on shore. The Morinda was then to return to Efate, New Hebrides, filing her departure report to include route and speed of advance. The reason for this was that she had to go to Suva for coal and water to complete her trip to Efate.

While this was occurring, Task Force Sixteen, the Anzac Squadron, and part of the Amphibious Force joined Task Force Eleven and took all the Cimarron's remaining fuel. As soon as the Platte rejoined, the former tanker was sent to Noumea to refill. She cleaned out the tankers there, and on 1 August Admiral Ghormley sent word to Commander Southwest Pacific: "Urgently need additional fuel oil New Caledonia area as Bishopsdale, now empty, being dispacthed to Brisbane to refill. Request you dispatch one tanker loaded with 50 to 100 thousand barrels as replacement." Before the Bishopsdale could clear the harbor she ran into a mine and was out of service. The 225,000 barrels due at Noumea in the chartered tankers E.J. Henry and Esso Little Rock had already been diverted, one tanker to Efate, one to Suva, so Ghormley could hardly be blamed for feeling uncomfortable about the fuel-oil situation. For his 3 carriers, 1 fast battleship, 11 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, 40 destroyer-type ships, 19 large transports, 1 large and 3 small aircraft tenders, 8


service-force vessels, and 499 airplanes of carrier- and land-based types, the only other fuel he had not already mentioned were some small quantities of black oil in shore storage for patrol craft, and considerable tank and barreled gasoline at Tongatabu and Efate and a smaller amount in New Caledonia. To remedy this acute shortage, Admiral Nimitz on 1 August, after reading of the Bishopsdale's mishap, ordered the 2 large, fast tankers then available at San Pedro to proceed at the earliest possible moment to Noumea with black oil for diversion by Ghormley. This was in addition to the 200,000 barrels ordered delivered every 15 days. The Gulfwax was also ordered to sail from Pearl to replenish the hstorage supply at Samoa. The next day the tanker Sabine left San Pedro for the South Pacific, but could not reach the Fijis before 2 weeks had elapsed.

The task force in the South Pacific was Sixty-one, under Rear Admiral Fletcher, which included Task Forces Eleven (Rear Admiral Fletcher), consisting of the Saratoga, two cruisers and five destroyers; Sixteen (Rear Admiral Kinkaid), of the Enterprise, battleship North Carolina, two cruisers, and give destroyers; Eighteen, under Rear Admiral Noyes, with the Wasp, two cruisers, and six destroyers; and Sixty-two (Rear Admiral Turner); the Amphibious Force and the supporting force of six cruisers and six destroyers; and Sixty-three (Rear Admiral McCain), which had the patrol aircraft and shore-based aviation.

With poor bases at Auckland, N.Z.; Fiji; Tongatabu, Tongo Islands; Noumea, New Caledonia; and Efate, New Hebrides, and the beginning of another one at Espiritu Santo also in the Hebrides, the Guadalcanal operation was begun. Not one of these bases was much more than a small airfield and a protected anchorage for ships while they took on fuel or supplies from service vessels. Auckland was the best because New Zealand could furnish food and some repair facilities, but it was too far from the scene of operations. Tongatabu was also too far, and had no facilities other than a little storage convenience established by ourselves. It was selected at a time when our caution was at its peak because it provided a submarine-protected anchorage behind reefs and was well beyond the range of Japanese land-based planes. Of them all, Noumea seemed the most suitable at this time. Its anchorage was large enough for all our ships, and was quite well protected against submarine attack by islands and mine fields. Efate Island had two harbors, Vila and Havannah. The former was too small for more than one or two combatant ships, and the latter, while large enough at that time, had no protection against submarines. Suva in Fiji was, like Vila, too small; the larger anchorage at Nandi was then unprotected.


Map: New Hebrides
New Hebrides


So, with a far-from-desirable logistic situation, and with the expectation of strong Japanese resistance, perhaps even full naval strength, the audacity of the Guadalcanal operation was evidenced in bold seizing of the initiative. The principal credit for this probably should go to Rear Admiral R.K. Turner, who was ever in the forefront in planning, directing, and carrying out an operation with skill, persistence, drive, and great courage. He thoroughly understood the difficulty of the support problem and worked unceasingly with all concerned in logistics, as he did with troop- and combat-ship commands. He not only could and did think in the large, but he could also when necessary attend to small details such as procuring kegs of nails or bundles of steel landing mat. Reverses or confused action did not discourage him, but made him only the more persistent in having the action improved. His farseeing knowledge of the preparation in logistics in his campaigns throughout the war further served to mark him as the greatest of all amphibious commanders.

In the Guadalcanal operation the situation was for some time "touch and go" mainly because of the logistic factors. Right at the start Fletcher stated that he would not give carrier-plane support for more than 2 days. He felt that the positions of the carrier groups would become too hazardous, and we were not in any condition to lose more carriers. To this Admiral Ghormley emphasized the importance of fighter cover for the transports in the unloading area, and Turner entered a vigorous protest against withdrawal before his transports were unloaded. Nevertheless, on the night of 8 August (the second day), with much unloading of supplies and equipment still to be done, Fletcher felt that he had to withdraw because his carriers' fuel was running low, and his plane losses of 20 percent had not been replaced. Fletcher had previously refueled on 3 and 4 August. He withdrew to a point 500 miles south of the transport-unloading area where he refueled on 10 August. Why Fletcher could not have refueled on 4 and 5 August and held on a day longer is not clear. Twenty-percent loss in fighter planes could hardly have been considered desperate. A day longer would have meant much more supplies and equipment for the Marines and less touch-and-go during the following 2 weeks.

It was unfortunate because it was chiefly the defense by the carrier fighters that had kept the transports from withdrawing when attacked by Japanese planes. There had been some interruption of unloading because of getting underway for fast maneuvers when the enemy planes approached. The transports were not withdrawn, however, but returned


Kitty Hawk supplying planes to the Long Island
Kitty Hawk supplying planes to the Long Island.


to the unloading points as soon as each attack ended. With Fletcher's withdrawal Turner felt that by daylight of the 9th he must withdraw most of his transports until he could have air support, and he did so. Nevertheless, for the next 2 weeks he skillfully landed the absolutely necessary supplies by sending in only one or two ships at a time, and concentrating on speed in unloading. He also landed many drums of gasoline for the airfield. It was desperate work, with aerial bombing by day and bombardment by cruisers and destroyers at night. While most of the attacks were directed at the airfield and at the Marines' shore positions, the logistic ships had to go to defensive positions repeatedly, and many interruptions in unloading resulted.

Since the lack of proper logistic support for Fletcher was the cause of Turner's inability to land much desirable equipment and supplies, we see logistics depending upon logistics. In spite of this, Turner did manage to get ashore the absolutely essential materials to keep the operation from ending in disaster. The increasing demands born of action, the distances over which most of our supplies had to come in hourly danger of attack, and the necessity of keeping abreast of a highly involved situation made realistic thinking and practical application essential. At the same time the thinking had to be imaginative and intuitive enough to gauge how much of what would be needed in every area in every conceivable circumstance. The timing was also important. On 11 August Admiral Ghormley asked Admiral Nimitz for ammunition for his destroyer-transports and destroyer-minesweepers, adding that none was available in the 4-inch class and only 1,000 rounds of 3-inch.

Commander in Chief Pacific had been thinking ahead also. The following day he replied that the Cabrillo had left San Francisco independently on 3 August with 40 guns and 200,000 rounds of 20-mm. ammunition for Auckland, and should arrive there about 23 August. He also said he was sending an additional 50,000 rounds of 20-mm. from Oahu, 50,000 rounds of .50-caliber incendiary, 50,000 rounds of .30-caliber incendiary, 6,000 rounds of 3-inch, and 4,000 rounds of 4-inch in the Vestal and Kitty Hawk, which would sail 15 August.

Ammunition was by no means the only item needed. On the 12th Rear Admiral McCain, Commander Air South Pacific, at Espiritu Santo in the Curtiss, told Admiral Ghormley that the ships arriving at Espiritu Santo needed fuel oil, Diesel oil immediately, and 300,000 gallons of bulk aviation gasoline for tenders within 7 days. If the tanker then en route to Espiritu Santo could not provide all of this, he suggested that the Sabine be diverted to him. There was some Diesel oil in the South


USS Kitty Hawk at Pallikulo Bay, New Hebrides, unloading torpedo plane to self-propelled 50-ton barge
U.S.S. Kitty Hawk at Pallikulo Bay, New Hebrides, unloading torpedo plane to self-propelled 50-ton barge.

Footnote.--This barge, one of the war famous type, made by assembling 21 steel pontoon sections, locked together with fittings known at jewelry. Certain assemblies were used as small docks, and non-self-propelled barges.


Pacific, but the nearest storage was at Suva and in the tankers busy supplying the carrier task groups. Espiritu Santo was becoming more and more suitable for use by the ships, and the Sabine was accordingly diverted there. She arrived from Suva on the 22d, remained 2 days, and went to sea to help fuel Fletcher's Task Force Sixty-one. After 2 days with it she started back 26 August 1942 to Espiritu, fueled 11 ships there, and on the 28th sailed for Noumea. There she filled up with the cargoes of the chartered J.W. Van Dyke and Pacific Sun, taking aboard 32,661 and 52,909 barrels from them on 30 and 31 August. The wherewithal was receiving more and more thought and action!

Meanwhile the Savo Island fight had left us with the crippled heavy cruiser Chicago, which had to be sent to Sydney, Australia, for repairs because we had no dock available nearer than that. This was a condition that we were on the way to remedy before the year was gone.

Admiral Ghormley's worries over the fuel situation continued. On 14 August he had notified Admiral King, Admiral Nimitz, and his own Service Force commander that Fletcher's carrier groups of Task Force Sixty-one after 1 week of normal cruising had completely emptied the oilers Platte and Kaskaskia. He also suggested that both ships be refilled and sent out to a rendezvous at a time to be named, he in the meantime holding the Cimarron to keep the force fueled. In reply next day Admiral Nimitz ordered th tanker Guadalupe to sail with Task Force Seventeen, the carrier Hornet group, on 16 August to reinforce the Southern Pacific.

Even that was not enough to allay Ghormley's anxieties. On 18 August he informed Nimitz that a study based on the actual issues of 23 days indicated that soon after 14 September there would be a fuel shortage. He said his total of on-hand and scheduled arrivals would be gone by that time, as his combatant vessels used an average of 25,000 barrels a day, and his auxiliaries 3,000 barrels, a daily total of 28,000 barrels. He therefore requested monthly shipments to supply that amount, with more to be supplied if additional vessels were sent to the area; said that he would soon send a similar analysis with respect to aviation gasoline, aviation lubricants, and Diesel fuel; and requested advance notification of tanker departures from the west coast so as to be able to plan more wisely. This detailed summary was most fortunate. The action which followed prevented any further serious shortage during the remainder of the South Pacific campaign.

Fighting results in something more than the mere necessity for replacing exhausted supplies. Battle damage, not only to ships but to men, was a major concern. On 15 August the hospital ship Solace had 362


wounded on board which she had to take to Auckland, where we had established a base hospital. Our medical logistics at this time were far from what we desired, and far from what we eventually developed. We had base hospitals started in New Zealand, another one at Efate, a field unit from Cub One--a Cub is an advanced unit with the necessary personnel and material for a medium-sized advanced fuel and supply base--at Espiritu Santo, and a base hospital on the way to being established at Noumea. Before the fight for the South Pacific was over, each of these was filled to capacity, and the three more added at Noumea, Espiritu Santo, and Guadalcanal were doing tremendous jobs. The sick and wounded were brought to them by ships and planes, kept until on the safe side, and then many were shipped home to the continental United States for further treatment and convalescence or, as sometimes occurred, taken to New Zealand or Australia for convalescence and an early return to duty. Many were sent to Pearl Harbor, where two new naval hospitals were set up. Still another was added later.

There was no end to the demands the action made. Now it was "discovered" that spare propellers for destroyers were needed and a call was sent out for them on 14 August. Nine days after the landing, the situation at Guadalcanal seemed to hinge mostly upon logistics.

On 16 August Admiral Ghormley told Admirals King and Nimitz that 11,000 Marines held the island to a depth of 5 miles from Koli Point to Point Cruz. Six thousand other Marines held Tulagi, Gavutu, Tanambogo, Mbangai, Makembo, and spots adjacent to Florida Island coast line. They had only 5 units of fire and 3 days' rations because of the enforced withdrawal of the transports and cargo ships. Enemy aircraft and submarine constantly threatened all shipping in the area. Four APD's (high-speed troop transports, the old flush-deck "four-pipers") had been sent in the night before with aviation gas, lubricating oil, spare parts, and some ground crews. There was no word of success or failure as yet. Two cargo carriers were to be sent in with rations and ammunition; they could be unloaded in 24 hours. Also, 3 carrier task forces were to sea to cover supplies into Guadalcanal and to attack enemy ships, which Admiral Nimitz said might appear between 19 and 21 August. On 16 August Admiral Turner told Admiral McCain, presumably with the idea that the latter could help materially by flying-in some of it, that essential needs at Guadalcanal were food, land-based aviation, ammunition, antiaircraft guns, barrage balloons, and radio-construction personnel. The Marines had captured, repaired, and were using a Japanese radio plant. They had also taken considerable rice and canned food,


without which their rations would have been even shorter. The four APD's unloaded successfully, and on the night of 21 August six more of them repeated the success. The two general cargo ships were also successful in unloading, but more than 24 hours were necessary because of boat shortage and inadequate beach handling of the cargoes. Not all the converted destroyers escaped damage. One of them put into Tulagi and there, with characteristic American inventiveness, made a jury steering rig out of coconut logs which helped her to reach Espiritu Santo.


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