Logistic Organization and Sources, South Pacific
Two weeks after Guadalcanal, when the battle of the eastern Solomons was fought on 23-24 August 1942, logistics again came and followed through, the operation might have become a major setback for us.
Damages and Repairs
Fletcher had returned to a supporting position when it was learned that the Japanese were moving south in greater strength than ever, with three carriers; battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Some four or five transports in another group were coming down the "Slot," the famous passage running down through the Solomons from the northwest. Failing to secure proper information regarding this force,Fletcher had meanwhile sent his Wasp carrier group back to the base to refuel. The battle of the Eastern Solomons had therefore to be fought with only the Enterprise and Saratoga groups.
Luckily, we made the first kill, sinking the carrier Ryujo quickly. Our fighter pilots were in high gear that day, and destroyed many enemy planes. Our Marine land-based planes likewise did great work, while the antiaircraft fire of the North Carolina was far more effective than the Japanese had anticipated. So, with such heavy plane losses, they decided to retreat.
They could not have known how weak we were without the absent task group, or that some of our land-based planes could stay at the scene only a few minutes, or that the refueling of these planes was a time-consuming hand-to-hand job. The enemy seemed unaware, moreover, that 4 of the cruisers they had fought on the night of 8 August had
sunk, and that a fifth was even then limping slowly back to a repair yard. They had just damaged the Enterprise so badly that her planes could operate only at reduced frequency from her flight deck, and she was withdrawing at 24 knots with her steering-engine room flooded, and the suspicion of a bent propeller shaft. Would the Japanese have turned back had they known all this? It is true that something induced their transports to keep going, to attempt to land reinforcements, but at dawn the Marine planes, which had refueled during the night, caught them with but weak escort and drove them into retreat with heavy losses. Could our planes have turned them back if they had been accompanied by their 2 carriers; battleships, cruisers, and destroyers of the force which had retreated the night before? Could the Marine planes, together with Sara's air group plus 1 battleship, 8 cruisers, and 12 destroyers, have done it? Fortunately the question did not have to be answered that day, but if our logistic support had been good, the Wasp group would have been refueled within supporting distance.
After this, no large scale naval activities were undertaken by the enemy for about 6 weeks. He ran in small detachments of troop reinforcements to Guadalcanal by night, but his logistics were faulty so he was unable to put in any artillery, tanks, or heavy equipment. Meanwhile we were busied with our own supply to the Marines there.
On 1 August 1942, Admiral Ghormley had moved to Noumea with most of his staff and some of the Service Squadron. On the 30th he told the Commander Service Squadron South Pacific, who was still in New Zealand, that our supply set-up was not right under the prevailing conditions, since operations and logistics had to go hand in hand. He was convinced that we should have a good subordinate supply command at Noumea and told ComServRonSoPac to think it over, warning him that heh would probably send a plane "in the near future to bring you, Nuber, and Fellows1 up for conference."
These were rough days. On 30 August the Saratoga was torpedoed and sustained a tremendous amount of structural damage in her firerooms, though not seriously hurt otherwise. She had to be sent to the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for repair. Fortunately the Hornet group had arrived in Noumea 2 days earlier, so the carrier strength remained for the moment unchanged. This, however, was short-lived. On 8 September we suffered a serious loss in the sinking of the carrier Wasp by submarine torpedo and fire. We still lacked something in ship and damage control,
something that had always been routine in the submarine service. Later, as the war progressed, it became almost as routine for the surface ships as for the submarines, and the amount of damage our ships withstood because of its efficiency was a matter for wonderment. The Service Force developed a fire-fighting school at Pearl Harbor, using the best talent available from some of our finest municipal fire departments. Methods of extinguishing gasoline, oil, and other fires were brought to such a high state of effectiveness that only one ship was lost as the result of fire after that, although many were set on fire more severely than the Wasp. Another fire-fighting school was later established at Noumea. Meantime, with the loss of the Wasp, we had only two carrier task groups in the area with which to oppose the next strong Japanese naval move for the relief of Guadalcanal.
On 6 September 1942, Admiral Ghormley reminded Admiral Nimitz that all the logistic agencies for the South Pacific were concentrated in the Service Squadron South Pacific, fixed at Auckland. Most of the logistics of the current operations were handled at Noumea by Commander Cowdrey, staff engineer, and two supply officers from the survivors of the heavy cruiser Quincy. Due to the magnitude of the task, plus the necessity that logistics minutely follow operational planning, this set-up was faulty, and unless it was rectified promptly operations would be jeopardized. Ghormley's situation required a fixed base at Auckland under administrative control of Service Squadron South Pacific to service fixed bases in accordance with a joint logistic plan of 15 July. It also required a complete semi-mobile logistic agency with Ghormley for combat operations.
Captain M.C. Bowman, who had commander the Service Force Subordinate Command at Auckland since April 1942 and worked with the New Zealand Government in establishing logistic bases and aid for the South Pacific forces, was brought to Noumea with Fellows and Nuber for consultation. He recommended the immediate establishment there of an advanced supply depot, with a line captain and suitable staff. As no buildings were available, he proposed that they be constructed. He also recommended the transfer of himself as ComServRonPac to the destroyer tender Whitney, at Noumea or wherever Ghromley might be, but suggested that the repair ship Rigel remain at Auckland to furnish repair facilities augmenting those of the dockyard. He asked for one line captain, one supply corps captain, one line commander as operations and routing officer, and one experienced communications officer with four assistants for Auckland to carry on the duties previously performed by
his own staff, which he wished to keep with him at Noumea. Ghormley recomended this to Nimitz.
Ghormley's dissatisfaction with his logistics was clear. The magnitude of the job was too much for three officers. He wanted a semimobile logistic agency with him for combat operations, and it can hardly be doubted that he needed the Commander Service Squadron South Pacific nearer than Auckland. Why he had to ask Admiral Nimitz to transfer Bowman to Noumea is not clear, unless he doubted his own authority to do so. On 9 July Nimitz had said that he would supply logistic support. This may have left Ghormley unsure as to the extent of his responsibility and authority in these matters. The fact that he could see the weak points and did not like the arrangement was apparent before Guadalcanal.
Bowman had done an excellent job at Auckland, thus paving the way for Ghormley when the latter arrived the following month (May 1942) with his small staff. However, at that time no Guadalcanal was handed them with its increased tempo, its many ships, and its complex logistic problems. Until after Midway we were on the defensive, and it was perimeter defense which was in in mind when the South Pacific Command was established. With the taking of the offensive, however, Bowman found himself trying to operate naval bases, a foreign-purchase department, and a Service Force squadron with a handful of officers with little or no previous experience. The fact that he well understood that operations and logistics go hand in hand was shown by his proposal that he and his staff be brought to Noumea to be in close contact with Ghormley, who had gone there 1 August. The near failure of our supply system in early September resulted more from conditions beyond Bowman's control than from any fault of himself or his staff.
Those conditions were, briefly: a lack of knowledge and experience in the high command and subordinates, when planning operations, as to logistics requirements entailed; the service staff was too small; the bases were too far apart; port handling facilities and storage were insufficient; and the attack on Guadalcanal was necessarily early, with but little time to think out and prepare all details. To these was added the enemy action which made delivery of supplies by Turner to the Marines on Guadalcanal exceedingly difficult. The insufficiency of land-based planes put a heavy load on our all-too-few carriers. Their plane losses in turn put an overload upon our existing replacement system (logistics), and the damage to ships beyond our capacity to repair (again logistics) strained our resources beyond all plans and estimates.
The planning itself omitted few of any items which would be needed, but the quantities were in many instances not much more than guesses, so there were many cases of too little and too much. Most trying was the failure to realize fully that the distribution at the combat area end of the line was one of the big problems. The where, how, and when of unloading the supplies from arriving ships and distributing to our naval forces had not been given the necessary study. To begin with, the loading was very bad. Parts of the same unit were scattered in different holds and mixed up with similar things, often making identification difficult. Invoicing and marking of cases was bad. At times parts of the same unit were in different ships.
It is well to bear in mind that Commander in Chief Pacific had notified Ghormley on 9 July that he would provide logistic support for the Guadalcanal operations, specifically naming fuel oil, Diesel fuel, aviation gas, and stores. What was included under stores? Were the specifically mentioned items considered the only form of logistic support Admiral Nimitz had in mind when the message was sent, or did support take care of everything? We know from ComSoPac's messages that he was worrying about fuel and to a lesser degree about ammunition, and that he did not agree with the Commander in Chief about the needs in these items. It may be assumed therefore that he did not credit CinCPac's staff with any sixth sense or deep understanding of the South Pacific needs, and he was right. In the meantime, however, his own available staff and that of ComServSoPac were too overworked to attend to the whole matter of estimates of quantities then loading at port of departure, and the unloading, storage, and distribution in combat areas to the units under his command. So it was muddled through, with luck on our side when the enemy failed to follow up an opportunity; or perhaps it should be said, when he failed to see that we were short or could have been cut short.
When on 29 September Captain Bowman and his five staff officers--still far too few--took over from ComSoPac's staff those additional duties required by the situation, muddling did not entirely cease, but we began to see more clearly what was needed and to set about obtaining it in a more efficient way.
At Espiritu Santo in the Hebrides the large landing field was put into operation. More planes were put in and a tanker sent there to provide fuel for the ships of the naval task groups. It was small, but it was a beginning. About this time it was suggested to Admiral Ghormley that Espiritu Santo, instead of Noumean, be made the big naval base, and that
an all-out effort be made at once in developing it. But with Guadalcanl still in doubt he felt that it was too early a venture, and that if we lost the former we should probably lose Espiritu Santo soon afterward, thus furnishing the Japanese a better base for further drives toward Australia and New Zealand.
Fitch relieved McCain on 21 September 1942. With his flag in the Curitss at Espiritu Santo, the readiness of the big field for certain types of planes, the protection of the harbor entrance by minefields, the building up of Army strength, and the many square miles of ground available and suitable for all kinds of activity, Santo was clearly the outstanding place for a base. Then Halsey relieved Ghormley on 19 October and soon afterward agreed that it was the best place we had. He approved bringing in a "Lion,"--a large advanced base unit consisting of all the personnel and material necessary to the establishment of a major all-purpose naval base able to perform voyage repairs and minor battle damage in addition to its supply functions. Meanwhile he based the cruiser and some of the destroyers there, and for that purpose sent in the repair ship Rigel, which gave them meager service of fuel, dry provisions, and occasionally some fresh and frozen provisions. The cruisers had practically no repair facilities other than ship's force and what the overworked Rigel had. Some ammunition for light guns had been brought by Cub 13 and this had sufficed, as there had been no heavy gun engagements in which the vessels had needed much ammunition replacement. There soon might be, however, and the call had gone in, so the "ammo" for turret guns was already being shipped. Storage areas had been allocated in Efate, Espiritu, and Noumea, and it was not long before more ammunition was being dumped than could be properly cared for.
In the battle of Cape Esperance on 11 October the cruisers Salt Lake City and Boise and the destroyer Farenholt were seriously damaged. They reached Noumea and laid alongside tenders (Whitney and Argonne). The latter was Ghormley's flagship and could do very limited repair work, but all that could be accomplished was to patch over holes to make the cruisers seaworthy enough to reach a navy yard. There were no facilities for turret work. One turret on the Boise had been penetrated by an 8-inch shell, whose explosion wrecked it. The two other forward turrets were out of commission from minor casualties and flooded magazines and the ship had been twice hulled, with serious damage at each point.
From Noumea the Salt Lake City went to Espiritu Santo, where she made temporary repairs before going to Sydney for permanent work. The
Farenholt's damage was remarkably localized. One shell had penetrated her fireroom and exploded in a corner on a main steam-line expansion joint. As the effect of the blast was taken by the boiler, the crew of that compartment managed to escape. Another shell exploded in the control room upon impact with a switchboard which acted as a shield for the men behind it. Only 1 man was killed there. A third shell had burst against a torpedo tube, forcing it into the smokestack, which it wrecked. In all 3 cases the local material damage was so great the ship had to be patched up temporarily and sent to a navy yard. Both cruisers were cannibalized. The San Francisco replenished her ammunition from the Salt Lake City at Espiritu Santo, and the Helena from the Boise. But there was still need for about 2,000 rounds of 4-inch .38-caliber, and 5 torpedoes for destroyers. These needs had been foreseen and shipment made. The other vessels of Rear Admiral Norman Scott's group which had fought the night battle of Cape Esperance had returned to Espiritu Santo for servicing, such as it was.
During those trying weeks of September and October we had been getting needed supplies and equipment to General Vandegrift. Considerable improvement had been made to Henderson Airfield, and an additional strip for fighters had been put in by the Sixth Seabees. Meanwhile, however, the Japanese had succeeded in getting in almost an entire division of troops by their many night landings from destroyers and submarines. They had not been able to land many tanks or much artillery from such light vessels.
We had had some bad luck, too. The new battleship South Dakota arrived at Tongatabu 4 September, and 2 days later struck an uncharted coral pinnacle in the entrance passage, suffering such damage that she had to be sent back to Pearl for repair. Before she left she was cannibalized of 1,000 rounds of 5-inch ammunition and some of the fuel she had taken from the commercial tanker W.S. Rheem. On 16 October her repairs had been completed and she was on her way back with Admiral Kinkaid's Task Force Sixteen, the Enterprise group. In the meantime, on 15 September, the North Carolina got a "tin fish" in her bow from a Japanese submarine. She went to Tongatabu, where divers from the Vestal cut off the projecting pieces of hull metal, and she too had to go back to Pearl for permanent repairs. She arrived there 30 September and left 6 weeks later, 17 November, to return to the South Pacific. In the interim our forces had only 1 battleship, the Washington. More bad luck came when the Chester was hit, towed in,found to be beyond ServRonSoPa's capacity for repair, and sent to Australia.
The next major effort by the enemy to relieve or retake Guadalcanal came on 26 October 1942, in the fight off the Santa Cruz Islands, in which we again discouraged the Japanese from following through. We lost the carrier Hornet and the destroyer Porter, both of which might perhaps have been saved had 2 or more salvage tugs been available, but we had none. The Enterprise was damaged, but we could not let her go back to a navy yard, so about 70 picked Seabees were put aboard and made extensive repairs to the forepart of her flight deck and forward officers' quarters. The Seabees went to sea with her on her next operation, as some work was unfinished but could be done while under way. The Seabees were so justly proud of their accomplishment and their seagoing on a combat vessel that it was difficult to get them back into their less adventurous duties again. Of course they lorded it over their less seagoing companions unmercifully.
The battleship South Dakota had been in this fight, was bombed, and was repaired by the Service Squadron at Noumea. The San Juan, a light aircraft cruiser, received a bomb hit which went through her stern and exploded under her counter, doing considerable damage which could not be repaired by the Service Squadron. She went to the navy yard at Sydney.
One result of this battle was a new requirement of logistics. It was to quarter and clothe at Noumea about 3,000 nearly naked men and officer survivors from the Hornet and the Porter until they could be shipped home for reassignment. The Navy was not prepared for this, but by cooperation of the Army, tents and cots were obtained, a camp prepared, clothing gathered from all available naval vessels, and each man given some underwear, socks, shoes, and a suit of dungarees. Fortunately the transport West Point came in a few days later, and all were shipped back home. This requirement was a lesson that was borne in mind during the following years of the war, though not always implemented in a fully satisfactory way. Tenets and extra clothing were carried (not always in proper quantities), and later on, with the formation of Service Squadron Ten, enough extra clothing was carried and barracks ships were eventually available. Transports were also frequently made available for handling considerable numbers of men when necessary.
The Japanese naval operation was planned to relieve their Guadalcanal situation and was timed to the expected capture of Henderson Airfield from the Marines. They failed to capture it, and though the naval action was about even, the Japanese again retired until they could reinforce their troops. We lost 1 carrier, 74 planes, a destroyer, and
sustained some damage to other vessels. Japanese losses were 2 carriers put out of action and about a hundred planes destroyed.
During the night of 2 November 1942, the enemy landed a beachhead battalion of more than a thousand at Koli Point, but our ships drive them into the woods. Our troops closed in on them and eventually wiped them out. A few days later, on the 6th, Admiral Turner landed 6,000 troops with tanks and artillery. Still others were put ashore on the 11th and 12th. We knew the enemy was also preparing for an attempt in strength to land reinforcements. Admiral Turner was therefore given a strong escorting group, and Kinkaid in further support was present with the Enterprise, the battleships Washington and South Dakota, and cruisers and destroyers. Again the Japanese were prevented from landing reinforcements and supplies, and this time they were really whipped, although we suffered too. The Japanese lost 2 battleships, 1 cruiser, 2 destroyers, 12 transports, and most of the troops and equipment. Our losses were 2 antiaircraft light cruisers and 7 destroyers. It was in the first phase of this battle that Admirals Callaghan in the San Francisco and Scott in the Atlanta were killed. The Atlanta, which was one of the antiaircraft cruisers lost, could have been saved had there been a salvage tug available.
Considerable damage had been done to the mast and superstructure of the South Dakota. Much of the damage was to electrical gear, and as it could be handled more advantageously by a navy yard, the ship was sent back. Repairs to the damaged San Francisco were made by Mare Island Navy Yard. The Portland was patched up in Tulagi after the tug Bobolink and the open lighter YC-239 assisted her in from off Kukum. Later, towed by the fleet tug Navajo from 22 to 30 November, she made Sydney for dockyard repairs.
After this our position in Guadalcanal was never critical. Our logistic build-up for both the forces there and our ships in the South Pacific was gaining daily, and the enemy realized it. The offensive had really been achieved, and, because of ability to give logistic support to our forces, was never lost, notwithstanding the damage the enemy inflicted upon us in the next 3 years of dogged, bloody fighting.
Two weeks later the enemy sent down eight destroyers to run in support for their Guadalcanal troops. Warned of this, Rear Admiral C.H. Wright was sent with the heavy cruisers Minneapolis, New Orleans, Pensacola, Honolulu, and Northampton, accompanied by four destroyers, to frustrate the attempt. It was intercepted and the reinforcement prevented, but at the terrific price of losing the Northampton and having the
Minneapolis, blow blown off.
Minneapolis, bow repaired with coconut palm tree trucks.
bows blown off both the Minneapolis and New Orleans, and the Pensacola torpedoed and put out of action. All three of the ships were saved, the Minneapolis with a temporary bulkhead of coconut logs, and restored to the fleet after a long period out of service. Two additional tugs had been instrumental in saving them, and the patching facilities at Espiritu Santo had been improved a little by the use of Seabees and a PT boat base, with the assistance of the repair ship Rigel. Temporary patchwork there enabled them to go to navy yards for real repair. The New Orleans had to turn back once for additional patching before she finally made it.
From the beginning of the South Pacific operations the various logistic organizations cooperated in solving supply and support problems. Some units arrived with shortages, but orders that all units consider themselves as part of the same team rather than Navy, Army, or Marine services in a separate and independent sense resulted in a considerable interchange of available supplies and facilities. In October 1942, Rear Admiral C.W. Crosse, commanding the Base Force Subordinate Command at San Francisco, was requested to have all chartered tankers which were sent to the South Pacific equipped with sufficient hose and facilities to supply two ships simultaneously at maximum rate. This would make a quicker fueling for task-force vessels refilling in port, and would make it somewhat easier on the naval oilers, which had been going at a killing pace. This was done on most commercial tankers, and some improvement was noted. Logistic and tactical conditions were improving so much all along the line that whenever there was noticeable falling off from the expected efficiency some complaints immediately followed.
About March 1943, complaints of the lack of fresh provisions began to come from the fleet. The Commander Service Squadron South Pacific made every effort to alleviate this. The condition was primarily due to lack of sufficient transportation for the desired quantities to the area. Additional refrigerator ships had already been requested, and efforts were being made to procure more fresh provisions from New Zealand. In the meantime, tinned and dry provisions had to make up the difference. The forces afloat were informed that they could not expect to be provisioned oftener than every 30 days until more refrigerator ships became available. But "growls" were a good sign. The offensive had been successful; we were no longer hanging on by our eyebrows; we were giving the Japanese tough handling; and, when sailors growl about things, it generally means they have time on their hands and the situation is no longer desperate.
Early in November of 1942, Rear Admiral C.H. Cobb was given command of the Service Squadron South Pacific, and until after the Bougainville campaign in November 1943, as our combatant forces gradually gained in strength, the logistics and servicing under Cobb gained likewise. The enemy meanwhile had been steadily losing.
In October 1942, Admiral Halsey had taken the shore base development administration from the Service Squadron and placed it under Captain W.R. Carter, with the title of Commander Naval Bases South Pacific. This administration included the assignment of construction battalions, the locating of floating drydocks, the construction of supply storage facilities, base hospitals, ammunition depots, wharves, landing-craft bases, nets, mooring buoys, etc. Early in 1943 this command was made subordinate to Commander Service Squadron. In May it was completely absorbed, and the separate command disappeared, again amalgamated with the Service Squadron South Pacific.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (4) * Next Chapter (6)
1. Captain H.D. Nuber (SC) and Lieutenant Colonel T.H. Fellows, USMC, were supply officers.