By fall of 1943, carriers were sufficiently numerous in the Pacific to begin attacks all along the enemy's eastern defense perimeter. (Until then our submarines had been carrying most of the war to the enemy in the Central Pacific.) For a start, plans were made to seize bases in the Gilbert Islands. The operation was known as GALVANIC. The assumption was that we needed airfields to contribute to future operations against the enemy. Vice Admiral Spruance's Central Pacific Force was therefore assigned the following mission: This force will seize, occupy, and develop Makin, Tarawa, and Abemama, and will vigorously deny Nauru to the enemy, in order to gain control of the Gilbert Islands and to prepare for operations against the Marshalls.
Operation GALVANIC (the Gilbert Islands)
Mobile Service Squadrons Begin Growing--Service Squadron Four at Funafuti
Admiral Spruance's force was divided into three major groups. The total number of ships involved was 179, not including support vessels such as oilers and other naval auxiliaries operating at Funafuti, Espiritu, Nandi,and at sea, and commercial tankers, etc., all of which contributed to the success of this operation. The main divisions were the Assault Force of Rear Admiral R.K. Turner; Carrier Force, Rear Admiral C.A. Pownall; Defense Force and Shore Based Air, Rear Admiral J.H. Hoover. The Assault Force itself was divided into Northern Attack, under Turner, and Southern, under Rear Admiral H.W. Hill. Each consisted of a transport group, a fire-support group, air-support or carrier group, mine-sweeper group, landing force, and LST and garrison groups.
Admiral Pownall's main Carrier Force was in four groups" Interceptor, Northern Carrier, Southern Carrier, and Relief Carrier, commanded
respectively by Rear Admirals Pownall, A.W. Radford, A.E. Montgomery, and F.C. Sherman. The assaults began on 20 November 1943, and Makin, Tarawa, and Abemama atolls were occupied. This move involved the largest force of ships yet assembled in the Pacific and required somewhat more logistic consideration than previous operations.
Admiral Nimitz, in his "Operations in the Pacific Ocean Area for November 1943," stated that the GALVANIC operation involved 116 combatant vessels and 75 auxiliaries, a total of 191. During September the Gilberts operation was largely in a stage of planning, organization, and assembling of men and supplies. Early in October specific training began. The vessels of the Assault Force were widely dispersed, but were brought together in two main groups, the Northern in the Hawaiian Area, the Southern in the New Hebrides. The former left Pearl Harbor 9 November, the Southern sailing form Efate 12 November. Each received its initial supplies and services at the point of departure.
These initial loads consisted, for both combat and auxiliary ships, of 120 days' supply of dry provisions for ship's company and 45 days' supply for embarked troops; fresh provisions to capacity; clothing for 90 days; ship's store, 90 days; general stores, 120 days; fuel and ammunition to authorized capacity. Generally speaking, each group refueled at sea while en route to the bombardment and landing rendezvous in each one's area, and each was accompanied by its own tankers. The Northern Attack Force was oiled by the Suamico, Commander R.E. Butterfield, and the Schuylkill, Commander F.E. Hardesty; the Southern by the Neches, Lieutenant Commander H.N. Hansen, and the Tallulah, Commander J.B. Goode.With the carrier groups, the Lackawanna, Commander A.L. Toney, andthe Neosho, Commander D.G. McMillan, fueled the Northern force; the Neshanic, Commander A.C. Allen, oiled the Southern, and Admiral Sherman's Relief Carrier Group was cared for by the Tallulah.
Battleships and destroyers of the Carrier Interceptor and Northern Carrier Groups had been at Nandi, Tomba Ko, and Viti Levu, all in the Fijis, prior to 7 November. The oiler Guadalupe came to Nandi 4 November, replenished her cargo from the commercial tanker Fort Dearborn, and then fueled the Washington and Fletcher. The Neches fueled the Maryland, the Portland, Mobile, and 4 others, went to Nandi, and filled up from the commercial oiler Pennsylvania Sun. The fueling anchorage was Lautoka, on the west coast of VIti Levu. The Platte, Commander C.H. Sigel, fueled the Indiana and 2 destroyers. Not all the oiler operations are mentioned, but enough to show something of this phase of
logistic support. During the GALVANIC operation the 15 fleet oilers operated under a Task Group 16 designation (ComServPac) in task units of 3 each at designated areas for fueling at sea.
In preparation for GALVANIC, the Boreas, Commander E.E. Burgess, made issues of her fresh and frozen provisions at Havannah Harbor in the New Hebrides from 27 October to 10 November, and from 11 to 18 November in Segond Channel at Espiritu Santo. She then returned to Oakland, California, to replenish her cargo fo fresh, frozen, and dry provisions.
During the preparatory period for GALVANIC, the idea of giving logistic support from floating mobile bases had been approved, but it was not until November 1943 that the first unit, Squadron Four, under Captain Scull, came into active operation. It reached Funafuti in the Ellice Islands 21 November for services subsequent to D-day. Makin LST Groups One and Two and Tarawa LST Groups One and Two proceeded to Funafuti for servicing. The operation plan required that battle-damage-repair facilities be available there.
Ammunition replacement was directed to be made from ships in the Samoa-Ellice area, but no names were given and no places designated in the logistic annex of the operation order.
Early in the fall of 1943 Admiral Nimitz ordered Commander Service Force to organize two mobile service squadrons. The idea was that as it advanced across the Pacific the fleet would base on one, capture its next objective, and thereupon bring up the second. It would base on the second until still another forward area had been gained, whereupon the first service squadron would leapfrog over the second, and so on alternately. As will be seen later, this scheme was not used; but two service squadrons were nevertheless organized.
The Mobile Service Squadrons
As the plans were developing for the Gilbert Islands campaign it was thought that Funafuti atoll, 8 degrees south of the Equator, would offer a submarine-protected anchorage nearer the area of attack than either Pearl Harbor or Espiritu Santo, and would be desirable or perhaps even badly needed. It was to be a fueling anchorage and a place for holding in readiness such naval forces as might be required if the Japanese sent out any great naval strength in defense. It was also to be a place of retirement for damaged or crippled ships until temporary repairs enabled
them either to return to service or to proceed to a navy yard or base for complete restoration.
Vice Admiral Calhoun designated his chief of staff, Captain H.M. Scull, as commander of the first service squadron to be formed, Squadron Four, to be based at Funafuti. It was commissioned 1 November1943 and consisted of the destroyer tender Cascade, Captain Samuel Ogden, flagship, and 23 other vessels ranging from the repair ships Phaon and Vestal down through tugs and patrol craft to fuel-oil barges and 500-ton lighters. Captain Ogden was chief staff officer in addition to his duties in commanding his ship. Rear Admiral Hoover had been ordered as Commander Aircraft Central Pacific to take station at Funafuti in the large seaplane tender Curtiss, which served the planes of Patrol Squadrons Fifty-three and Seventy-two. He was also senior officer present afloat, which actually made Scull's squadron a part of his command.
The organizational scheme accorded with Admiral Spruance's operation campaign order. This required that Commander Service Squadron Four establish and maintain an mobile supply base at Funafuti to supply the forces engaged; also that Four's assigned ships and others placed under its operational control should conform to the directives, plans, and needs of Commander Central Pacific Force (Spruance). Operational control of harbor facilities in Funafuti was delegated to Scull by Admiral Hoover. The same command relationships were in force for the Marshalls campaign and the seizure of Kwajalein and Majuro; but in addition to Service Squadron Four, mention was made in Spruance's operation order that Squadron Ten was being assembled, and the both Four and Ten were under the operational control of Commander Defense Force and Land Based Air, Admiral Hoover, who later became Commander Forward Area, Central Pacific.
On 12 November 1943 the Curtiss, and on the 21st the Cascade, reached Funafuti. The former remained until 31 December, when she went on to Tarawa, the Cascade staying until February 1944. During the November-February period the Cascade, assisted by a rather limited assortment of yard craft, serviced 10 destroyers, 8 destroyer escorts, 6 landing ships (tank), 6 landing craft (tank), and various smaller types. The repair ship Ajax, Captain J.L. Brown, was present under temporary
Funafuti, Ellice Islands
control of Service Squadron Four, and made repairs to LST, LCT, and PC types. The Diesel-driven repair ship Luzon, Commander E.R. Runquist, repaired landing craft, and the Ranier, Commander R.B. Miller, issued ammunition to the heavy cruisers Chester and Pensacola. On 22 November the Vestal, Commander W.T. Singer, after a year's service at Espiritu Santo where she did great work on war-damage repairs, came to Funafuti. Three days later she was alongside the small carrier Independence to make emergency repairs--the first war-damage repair undertaken by Squadron Four.
The Independence, torpedoed 20 November (D-day), her after engine room flooded, had a ruptured fire main, which left the after part of the ship without water pressure. Her No. 1 shaft vibrated and broke and had to be secured. Submersible pumps kept the after fireroom under control, though flooded. A magazine was also flooded. After the transfer of aircraft and spare parts, and the removal of ammunition and gasoline from the cripple, the Vestal removed damaged protruding plating, dewatered and made tight the third deck, installed pipe jumpers to provide firemain pressure in the after part of the ship, and removed some blister plating. Her divers removed No. 1 propeller, and secured Nos. 2 and 3 propellers together by a cable to prevent them from turning when the ship was under way. On 7 December the Independence sailed for Pearl, and thence to the United States for permanent repairs.
The Vestal remained at Funafuti doing various repair jobs, large and small, of every description, including boiler repairs on the Massachusetts, gunsights on the South Dakota, radar work for the Washington, watertight doors for the Alabama, and putting back into operation a coding machine on the North Carolina. The propellers of the carrier Bunker Hill were inspected by divers. The Vestal repaired the air pumps of the heavy cruiser Chester. These and dozens of trifling jobs. none significant in themselves but all going toward making the difference between efficient operation and high morale and inefficient operation and lowered morale, kept the Vestal busy until she sailed for Majuro on 30 January 1944 to tackle the damage resulting from a collision of the battleships Washington and Indiana and to become a valuable unit of Service Squadron Ten until the end of the war. These activities, of course, were only a part of the varied services rendered by Squadron Four at Funafuti. Maintenance and repair operations there did not involve many large jobs, nor were they so extensive as had been anticipated, and as later proved to be the case in other parts of the Pacific.
Funafuti was not a good place because of the very rough water, which
made boating and servicing difficult for ships and seaplanes. Furthermore, it lacked sufficient land area to make it much more than a very indifferent airplane base. There were no fleet recreation facilities, and while this may not seem important as a logistic item, it was.
As soon as Tarawa was captured, most of the services except those for deep draft battleships and carriers were moved up to the Gilberts. It was soon clear that the enemy was not going to bring his navy out to contend for the Gilberts, and thereafter our heavy ships did not use Funafuti much but backed away to the better bases at Efate, Espiritu, Nandi, and Pearl.
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