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For more than seventy years oilers have been the work horses of the fleet. Throughout this century--in war and peace--they have had the unglamorous duty of keeping the fighting ships of the U.S. Navy topped off with black oil, ordnance, and provisions. This task has been carried out with every type of vessel imaginable, seven days a week, in good weather and bad, in daylight and in the pitch blackness of night. Though not a combat assignment, it has proved to be an essential component of the war fighting doctrine of the U.S. Navy.

Although this book is filled with information about oilers and the development of replenishment at sea, it fails to provide a sense of the daily activity onboard an oiler. I have not tried to characterize this duty believing that this task is best left to those who have actually served on such vessels. During the course of my research, however, I was fortunate enough to come across the following poem, which epitomizes what life on an oiler is all about. It is reproduced here in the hopes that it provides those who are unfamiliar with this aspect of naval service with a feel for the demands of replenishment at sea. Perhaps it will also serve to refresh the long-forgotten memories of those blue jackets who have been privileged to crew an AO.

Sunday at Sea

(AO Style After Four Months in the Med.)

There is nothing quite like
Sunday at sea
When nothing goes right
That's Sunday at sea.

It's holiday routine
in the ship's POD
But we all know better
On Sunday at sea.


The first thing to do
To start it off right
Is to pipe reveille
Before it gets light.

Set the port fueling detail
On a Sunday yet
Set the starboard detail
Now there's a good bet.

For exactly ten minute
Calm is the word
On the tactical circuits
Not one blast is heard.

Go to new rendezvous station
Black smoke and white water
Make seventeen knots
Like a good AO orter.

The racket is terrible
I start screaming too
Port ahead flank
Starboard back two.

But then out of nowhere
(At least I can't tell)
The storm shows its fury
The calm becomes HELL.

Reman all the phones
As fast as you're able
Get all the gedunk
And untangle the phone cable.

I get off the bridge
With a twitch in my eye
And head for my pad
Where I swear I will die.

No matter where I go
Or wherever I may be
I shall never forget an AO
Sunday at sea.


This appeared in the Kaskaskiagram (ca. 1950), a monthly report to all the ship's families from the Kaskaskia (AO-27), then serving the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.1



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Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Larry Jewell & Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation