Chapter VI
Building Up in the South Pacific

While fighting is at times the deciding factor in warfare, it is possible only when the logistic needs of the fighters have been anticipated and met. The flower of the German armies perished in the bitter Russian winter from lack of supplies, as had Napoleon's Grande Armée before them. History is full of such tragedies, and every operations planner should realize his utter dependence upon logistics.

In our own case we were faced not only with the vastly increased demands created by forces of unprecedented magnitude, but by the distances over which all supplies and services had to move before they could be effective, and by the need to charter, buy, and build enough ships to bring them where they were badly needed. Moreover, the technical advances made by modern science involved so many items--some of them mechanically intricate--of every imaginable sort, that the services of supply had to provide over a tremendously large and varied field. If a shortage developed, men might die uselessly. There was potential tragedy in every move made. So, dry as it may seem at first sight, what follows is nevertheless the highly significant record of what was done to support our combat units for their bloody work, and of the means by which battered ships and men were repaired.

By late fall of 1942, ammunition depots had been established at Noumea and Espiritu Santo, with a smaller one at Efate. All three handled aviation ammunition as well as larger material. There was more for the flyers at Guadalcanal. Fuel-oil supply storage had been erected on Ducos Peninsula at Noumea, with a capacity of 370,000 barrels of black and 30,000 barrels of Diesel fuel, together with a pier at which vessels could be unloaded and and supplied. Our ships sailed on water but they moved on oil, and the demand never ceased. Over on Efate, at Vila, we had seven 1,000-barrel steel tanks for aviation gasoline, two 10,000-gallon Diesel tanks, and four buried 5,000-gallon aviation-gasoline tanks, while at Havannah eight other buried tanks held 5,000 gallons each. In


the Tulagi area we had ten 1,000-barrel tanks plus 12,000 barrels of aviation gasoline, a 60-000-barrel Diesel-oil storage, and a 280,000-barrel fuel-oil farm. Guadalcanal added storage for 1,300,000 gallons of aviation gasoline.

The storage, like the demands, mounted steadily. By July of 1943 we were erecting fifty 10,000-barrel fuel-oil storage tanks on Aore Island at Espiritu, as well as tanks holding 20,000 barrels of Diesel fuel, 17,000 barrels of motor gasoline, and twenty-three 1,000-barrel aviation-gasoline tanks. The fuel unit at Espiritu from November 193 was one of the busiest of the many supply functions. Before that, fueling of the fleet had been by means of station tankers and incoming oilers. The tank farms and fifty 10,000-barrel storage tanks were connected with a pipeline system and pumps capable of handling 350 gallons a minute. While the amount of storage was not large or the pumping rate high, in the light of previous close escapes from fuel shortages it was a comforting reserve equivalent of about five tanker-loads. The fuel depot also issued 3,000 to 5,000 drums of lubricants a month at its peak early in 1944. In November 1944, the Noumea facilities were no longer necessary and dismantling was commenced.

The consumption of fuels and lubricants was tremendous. At Tulagi alone during the early part of 1943 the motor torpedo boats burned up 3,000 to 7,000 gallons a day and the airplanes about a thousand. By the end of that year the PT boats burned about 5,000 gallons a day and the planes 5,000 to 10,000 gallons. Petroleum products carried afloat averaged 219,830 tons, or approximately 1,300,000 barrels, a month for the first half of 1943, and were steadily increasing. By October, Commander Service Squadron South Pacific sent a dispatch to Commander Subordinate Command San Francisco saying that his estimate of 17 black-oil tankers was not considered sufficient to fill the future requirements. It must be remembered that in this was included both fleet and shore supply, ServRonSoPac being responsible for both. This proved before 6 months had elapsed, not only that Ghormley's estimate of the previous August for the area had not been too large, but on the contrary, too small.

Lion One

The mere technical definition of a Lion as a large advanced base unit consisting of all the personnel and material necessary for the establishment of a major all-purpose naval base conveys little to anyone but


those who have had the experience with such an undertaking. In the South Pacific, Lion I under the able command of Captain J.M. Boak, later a commodore, by July of 1943 was rapidly making Espiritu Santo our principal base in the area. In detail it consisted of facilities as varied as our needs. Its torpedo overhaul unit could handle five or six torpedoes a day. An aviation engine overhaul had a huge shop of many buildings, full of machinery and staffed with expert personnel capable of reconditioning 200 engines a month--no small activity in itself. The ship repair unit was completely housed by this time. Some heavy machinery had not yet been installed, but the general equipment and facilities were expected to be complete within a month and be capable of executing repairs as well as could be done by a regular repair ship.

The administration unit consisted of seven departments: Operations, ordnance, captain of yard, supply, disbursing, receiving station, and executive. These covered in separate detail not only the activities ashore, but also boat pool and water transport system, the operation of the port director's service, inshore and harbor patrols, and so on. The supply department had 36 buildings, each 40 by 1000 feet, for general stores. The actual business done by its clothing and small stores section during May 1943 amounted to $175,000. On 28 June, needing more help, it received 244 Negro seamen to supplement the 200 storekeepers and strikers already assigned. Under the executive department came the 6 sections devoted to clerical, fleet post office, welfare and recreation, Chaplain Corps, communications, and intelligence. The Lion, moreover, included activities for issuing pay checks, for camp maintenance, 8 dispensaries completely equipped and staffed, and a 600-bed hospital. War involves not only tremendous effort and expenditure, but the systematic are of men.


The first ammunition supply set up at Espiritu Santo was established by Cub I, the smaller brother of Lion I. It was soon apparent that this was not sufficient, and a much larger depot would be required. The first wave of munitions landed in December 1942, and from that time the stock continued to increase until September 1944, when it reached its peak. On the latter date 38,000 tons of ammunition were stored in 175 regularly designed magazines, and in Quonset huts, Stransteel warehouses, tents, thatched huts in several instances, and much in dumps in the open air.


The depot overhauled and reconditioned a considerable amount of material, including more than 40,000 rounds of 5-inch .38 caliber, with the replacement of the projectile fuses. Until the middle of 1944, issues were made largely direct to the ships concerned. As the war moved westward, this grew steadily less and ammunition ships were loaded at the depot to go forward with the supply. At peak activity in March 1944 the depot serviced 120 vessels, large and small. These included 8 carriers, 7 heavy and light cruisers, 37 destroyers and destroyer-escort types, besides landing craft and the "splinter" fleet, of the submarine-chaser and patrol-boat types. Not all of these were completely reammunitioned, as this would have required more than four times as much as the total in storage. It was a great record nevertheless, and it shows the importance of the part played by the naval base at Espiritu Santo in fleet ammunition logistics.

In the torpedo overhaul shop at Espiritu between May 1943 and May 1945, both fleet and aircraft torpedoes gave the 2 officers and 11 men more than they could do. Of the 2,660 torpedoes received, 2,500 were overhauled and 2,100 reissued. As far as quantity goes this was a very satisfactory performance. Unfortunately the quality of the work was not so high. This was due partly to the hurried and slap-dash training given the personnel, partly to the conditions under which they worked and lived, and partly to the overload under which they started. A mine depot at Espiritu Santo assembled and supplied the mines for any project. An earlier mine assembly had been set up at Noumea, and by the time the Espiritu depot was in full working order much of the mine laying and supplying for the South Pacific was completed. There was also at Noumea an ammunition depot with about 100 small magazines, 40 or 50 warehouses for ordnance materials, all of them steel, and a large area of open storage, including mines and torpedoes.

Provisions and Stores

By the end of 1943 the Naval Supply Depot at Espiritu was operating on a 24-hour bases. Earlier, in August, it had serviced its first large task force as a unit, though there had been individual vessels taken care of from time to time before that. Following the initial landings on Bougainville three large cruisers were rushed down from there to Espiritu, a distance of more than 900 miles, for badly needed supplies. In short order they were loaded with 150 tons of provisions and general


stores by means of barges securing alongside them in the stream.

At this time, late in 1943, the supply storage unit, besides its sixty 40-by-100-foot warehouses, had extensive outdoor storage space approximating 400,000 square feet filled with supplies of all kinds. The fleet provision unit, with 24 large "reefers" (refrigerator boxes or rooms), and 5 warehouses had been receiving and issuing quantities of both fresh and dry provisions. Storage capacity was 2,500 tons of dry and 1,500 tons of fresh and frozen provisions. The incoming stores section had the job of cargo segregation, and both this section and the outgoing stores unit were kept exceedingly busy. The supply depot had been constructed partly by plan, partly by trial and error. It had handled and issued large quantities of war materials, worked its men overtime many a weary day, been cursed roundly any number of times, but had come through. At the depot, pier 4 extended some 200 yards into Segond Channel, and was capable of loading 2 large ships at once. Often it was impossible for the numerous vessels requiring supplies to secure alongside No. 4. In such cases, ships' working parties were brought ashore, trucks were loaded with the necessary material and driven to another pier, unloaded into boats, and the supplies delivered by boats and barges alongside the waiting ships.

Another supply depot had been established earlier at Noumea. It was eventually a very good one, though short-lived, after getting off to a slow start. There were some 80 steel warehouses for covered storage and cargo areas for open field storage. Also there were steel warehouses and a few old buildings for an aviation supply depot which soon found itself too far from the operations front.

Welfare and Fleet Recreation

Of importance among the many advantages officers and men alike of our forces enjoyed to a far greater degree than was possible for those of either the enemy or our allies, was our provision for relaxation and recreation, afloat as well as ashore. As far as was possible in the circumstances, our men were given under war conditions the same types of recreational facilities they had enjoyed before the war at home. The effect upon general morale was admirable, the uplift healthful in every activity. The damning that was heard--and there was plenty of it, for sailors are notorious growlers--was mostly conversation, and did not result from the work or the overtime and mental strain.


Aore Island, for example, had a fleet recreation are which consisted, in addition to the swimming beach, soda fountain, and beer "parlor," of nine softball diamonds, one hardball diamond, three tennis courts, four volleyball courts, three basketball courts, one football and soccer field, three boxing rings, horseshoe courts, eight handball courts, and a theater district. Barbecue pits and picnic facilities rounded out this with something for nearly everyone.

Mafia Island also had a fairly large area for the Pallikulo Bay crowd, and many other recreation facilities were scattered about the Espiritu Santo base. Many of these were for individual shore-based units and were not available to the men of the fleet except by special invitation. Moving pictures also played an important part of the relaxation program. The endeavor was made to circulate films through the ships and show them in rotation whenever possible. The motion-picture exchange and its distributing features contributed to morale importantly. More will be seen of this later as the war developed.

At Havannah Harbor, Efate, there was a recreation area of less pretension, and it was while R.C. "Ike" Giffen's force was at anchor that some 8.000 cases of area beer were "lost" in shipment. It was suggested that it had been mistaken for landing-boat fuel as some of "Ike's" liberty boats handled poorly for a time. The laughter was as good a tonic as the missing beverage.

Maintenance and Repair

Naval battles mean hurt ships. The damage may be light relatively, or it may be serious. Whatever it is, the nearer the repair facilities the better. Only in the most serious cases of major injuries beyond the ability of local facilities to repair, should a combatant vessel be sent back to a navy yard or shipyard. Such action takes the ship out of the active fleet for a considerable period, weakens our forces proportionately, may delay pending moves, and further exposes the cripple to attack en route while not in proper condition to fight off her enemy.

During early operations our repair ships and advanced bases did everything they could, and the ship's forces themselves often accomplished wonders in patchwork and repair. These, however, were not sufficient, and floating drydocks of various types and sizes were urgently needed. Ships had their bows blown off, their sterns blasted away, huge holes torn in their hulls by torpedoes whose explosions created a chaos that


had to be seen at the time to be fully realized. Japanese shelling, bombing, and bombing planes wrecked enginerooms, put turrets out of action, and touched off tremendous fires and magazine explosions that made the survival of the battered vessel almost a miracle. By getting the victim into a dock where she could be given full attention while still in the supporting area, priceless time and effort were saved repeatedly and the enemy could not know just how hard he had hit us at times.

By late fall of 1942 we had installed a ship-repair unit and a floating drydock, ARD-2, at Noumea. The floating docks of this type were 485 feet long and had a lifting capacity of 3,500 tons, which made them able to accommodate destroyers, submarines, and "landing ships, tank" (LST's). But such facilities were small compared to the huge ABSD types. Much has been said and written about the great ABSD-1 which was assembled and put into operation near Aessi Island in Pallikulo Bay. It was a remarkable design, and getting it into operation was a fine job of towing and assembling. There was some delay in the assembling because 1 of its 10 sections was lost in the bay. However, in December 1943 the remaining 9 sections were fastened together and the first docking was accomplished 31 December. "ABSD" means Advanced Base Sectional Dock. This one, originally designed in 10 sections, would have been 927 feet long with a lifting capacity of 90,000 tons. Put together as a 9-section dock it was 844 feet long and could lift 81,000 tons. In addition to this one at Aessi we later had others at Manus and Guam. The Aessi dock was a great potential asset as there were a number of large, heavy ships operating in the South Pacific which could if damaged be accommodated only by this dock. We should have had it in the fall of 1942 when our damage was greatest. It turned out, however, that the ABSD-1 actually docked only 3 ships which could not have been accommodated by the smaller floating docks. The remainder of its 71 dockings were for medium and smaller vessels. In April of 1945 it was disassembled and towed to Samar.

The ship-repair unit was in operation by the summer of 1943 at Espiritu Santo, but it was never commensurate in size or capacity with some of the other activities there. Most of its effort was spent on necessary routine and emergency repairs to patrol craft, auxiliaries, landing craft, merchantmen, and vessels of the United Kingdom. It did, however, do some battle-damage repair work for our ships of all types, including fleet destroyers. Much of this was minor, thanks to later good fortune of war, and it was done well and willingly. In addition to the large dock in Pallikulo Bay we also had a cruiser-capacity floating dock,


Honolulu at Tulagi with bow damaged by dud torpedo
Honolulu at Tulagi with bow damaged by "dud" torpedo.


YFD-21, and were soon to have two smaller ones, ARD-14 and AFD-14, with respective lifting capacities of 3,500 tons and 1,000 tons. The two latter types were single-piece steel craft.

In the Solomons at FLorida Island--where as a starter we had only a motor torpedo boat base at Sasapi, Tulagi, with the tender Jamestown concealed across the harbor against the mangrove jungle--in the spring of 1944 we had at Purvis Bay the AFD-13, destroyer tender Whitney, the repair ships Medusa (en route to southwest Pacific) and Prometheus, the battle-damage repair ship Aristaeus, and the repair barge YR-46. Valuable services were rendered. In addition to these floating services there were landing-craft repair units at Carter City on Florida Island near Purvis Bay and in the Russell Islands. Large boat-repair stations were at Turner City and at Gavutu Harbor on Florida.

The high point of service in the Florida area was during March 1944, when 261 vessels were repaired, including 1 battleship, 3 light cruisers, 16 destroyers, 18 destroyer escorts, 72 attack transports, 51 LST's, and 31 submarine chasers. During this same period the floating drydocks ARD-14 (now in Purvis Bay) and AFD-13, with 2 pontoon drydocks, made repairs to 110 vessels, including 5 destroyers and 41 landing craft, infantry (LCI's).

During the early part of the war practically all the work on small ships was done in New Zealand to take advantage of the docking facilities there. In January and March of 1943 the Portland and New Orleans went to Sydney, Australia, because major cases of battle damage could be handled only there. It became a fairly common practice also to send cruisers, destroyers, and similar ships there for drydocking and rehabilitation.

At Auckland, N.Z., repair facilities were such that 4 vessels of the attack-transport type could receive overhaul concurrently with smaller craft. The major part of the work was assigned to His Majesty's New Zealand Dockyard at Bevenport. When the jobs were greater than its capacity, they were farmed out to 112 independent firms, coordinated by the liaison officer in Auckland. In Wellington a cargo ship could be completely overhauled while routine repairs and material work were being carried forward on 3 other similar vessels. Dunedin could give a cargo ship a complete overhaul but could not do simultaneous repair work.

All this repair work in New Zealand was under the direction of the Material Department of the Force Maintenance Office, and included repairs to material under the cognizance of armed guard officers on all


War Shipping Administration vessels. Besides Auckland, several other bases in New Zealand supplied minor repair facilities. Auckland was the most important, however, and in 1943 in 11 months (February excluded) it repaired 282 vessels of all types. The monthly cost of repairs and alterations in this one port ran to about $100,000.

Havannah Harbor in Efate was a deep-water torpedo-protected port nearer our activities than Noumea, and here for some months a number of combatant ships were based and serviced. On 15 January 1943 the repair ship Rigel, which had been doing great work at Espiritu Santo since 20 November 1942, had arrived and rendered splendid tender and repair service under the able command of Captain Roy Dudley. She remained until relieved by the Medusa 24 APril 1943. Four days later the Rigel sailed to join the Seventh Fleet. At Pearl the Medusa had been busy with repair and salvage jobs and here at Efate she tackled with a will many kinds of maintenance and repair work, not only on board in her own shops but by sending working parties to many different ships. Her log, for example, shows that on 30 April 1943 she had 60 men in 9 working parties doing everything from star-gaging 6-inch guns to mending equipment in the recreation center. During that week she completed 258 separate jobs. She was commanded at this time by Commander J.F.P. Miller, who had grown gray in the naval service getting done things many men would not undertake. The service was indeed fortunate in having him where production counted for so much.

The Medusa stayed in Havannah except for the period 24 July-4 August 1943, when she was at Espiritu to ease a heavy workload there. Vessels of the British Fleet were there besides many of our own. On 27 March 1944, she finally sailed to join the Seventh Fleet, with which she remained until the end. If the campaign had gone less successfully, more use might well have been made of Efate, and it was not doubt the part of wisdom to have had it available. Excepting for a very good base hospital, which was kept at full activity and capacity most of the time, the return on the amount of effort put into Efate was small, but this should be charged against the waste of war rather than against inefficient planning.

General Activities

The duty of the service forces was not merely to keep abreast of the combatant fleet activities, but as far as possible to go ahead of them by


Ortolan raises two-man submarine
Ortolan raises two-man submarine.


being prepared in all respects before assistance was demanded. The difficulties of such an ambitious yet vital task were so great and depended upon so many elements beyond our control, that no account of the work can be wholly objective. The combat forces acted with greater confidence and dash as they became more aware that behind them awaited more of the things they might need in either defeat or victory. The wounded were cared for immediately in the well-staffed and well-equipped hospital ships and base hospitals. The latter were established at Espiritu Santo, where a 600-bed hospital proper was reinforced by no less than 8 dispensaries; there were 2 at Noumea--Fleet Hospitals Nos. 5 and 7, the former with about 1,000 beds, the second with about 2,000--backed up by a huge convalescent camp; one in Guadalcanal of 2,000 beds, one of 1,300 beds at Banika Island in the Russells completed in March 1944; still another at Efate.

The important supply of fresh and frozen foods was furnished by the fleet provision unit with 24 large reefers and 5 warehouses and Espiritu Santo already mentioned, and 10 ships working out of Auckland to carry their vital freight wherever it was needed. Even this was not enough as our effort grew. In September 1943 the Commanding Officer of Service Squadron South Pacific estimated that he had exactly half enough ships to carry the provisions contracted for in New Zealand for 1944.

The activities there began in April 1942 under the direction of Commander H.D. Nuber of the Supply Corps, whose office was in Auckland. For some months that port was the main supply base and was able to fill the requisitions made on it. But by the time we landed on Guadalcanal it was apparent that New Zealand was too far in the rear to be an operating base for directly supplying the forces afloat. From that time onward the principal supply to the fleet was made by United States provisions ships and the supply depots on advanced bases at Noumea and Espiritu. Beef, mutton, and other foods were, however, supplied to these sources from Auckland for some time thereafter. New Zealand also continued to supply large quantities of food to the shore forces.

More of everything was being called for day by day. In May 1943 it was reported that 17 more tugs, in addition to the 8 on hand, were needed. Two more fuel-oil barges were demanded to supplement the 4 on hand, and 5 gasoline barges were required. A month later the call for more again went out--9 Diesel-engine repair ships, 3 aviation stores (bulk) ships, 2 destroyer tenders, 6 LST's as aviation stores issue ships, 4 landing craft-repair ships, 1 landing-craft tender, 10 tugs, 60 LCVP's (landing craft, vehicles, personnel; 36-foot single-screw Diesel, built of


plywood and very useful in handling stores up to about 5 tons or limited personnel) per month for 6 months, 3 big salvage tugs (ARS's), and 2 motor-torpedo-boat tenders (AGP's). This was a time when the advantages of floating services were manifesting themselves strongly.

Many other facilities of smaller and less spectacular sorts were located at Noumea and Espiritu. Among them were the fleet post offices, with their eagerly perused letters from home, an antiaircraft gunnery school, fire-fighting school with advisory instructors already mentioned, the motion-picture exchanges, gas plants, sections for the purchase of war bonds, and so on. All these went to make great bases which after a very short period of activity found themselves so far in the rear as to raise the question of whether the amount of shipping required to build them might not have supplied the necessary fleet support afloat, and been mobile and ready to go forward at short notice.


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