Chapter 6: Mobilization

Mobilization of these forces was well under way by the last of June, with the major group of ships assembling at Wellington, New Zealand, and the rest at San Diego and Pearl Harbor. The little time available created a most difficult logistical problem for the First Marine Division. The division's First Echelon, the Fifth Marines, was already in New Zealand, had unloaded and was ready to reembark immediately. But the Second Echelon, the First Marines, had not yet arrived, and it was evident that it would be all but impossible for the two echelons to reload simultaneously at the few docks available at Wellington. Accordingly, it was decided to combat-load the First Echelon at once. This work began July 2d, with the equipment of the Fifth Marines, reorganized as Combat Group A, being put aboard the transports American Legion, Fuller, and Neville and the cargo ship Bellatrix in the next few days. The loading proceeded smoothly for the most part.

Departure from Wellington had been set for July 18th, but when it became apparent that because of bad weather the Second Echelon would not arrive until the 11th or later, permission was obtained to delay departure until the 22d. Even this postponement did not relieve the situation greatly, as little more than a week was left to unload and completely reload


8 ships for combat service. Matters were made worse by the weather, which was cold and extremely rainy, a "southerly" blowing almost constantly from the Antarctic. The rain soaked thousands of cardboard containers, causing them to disintegrate and spill out their contents.

Loading operations were centralized at a single large wharf, Aotea Quay, which could accommodate five ships at once. All the stevedoring was done by the Marines themselves, except that skilled civilians operated some special loading machinery. The Marines, who had just arrived from a long voyage in crowded transports, were not in the best of physical condition, and the cold, rainy weather was not beneficial. They were organized into working teams of 300 men for each vessel and kept an around-the-clock schedule of 8-hour reliefs. The division's own transportation was increased by trucks of the First Base Depot and by a daily detail of 30 flat-topped New Zealand Army lorries. Ammunition, organizational equipment, and gasoline dumps were established in open areas on the wharf, while rations and perishables were checked and classified in a large warehouse at one end of the wharf.

The ships were loaded on the general principle that each transport would carry one combat team and all the equipment and supplies needed to put that team ashore and keep it in action for 30 days. For every 3 combat teams (or a combat group) there was loaded a cargo ship with supplies sufficient to maintain the 3 teams in action for 30 additional days. In this way, with a cargo ship for every 3 transports, the division was prepared for 60 days of action if necessary, without further support.

To utilize to the utmost the troop-carrying capacity of the ships available, all excess supplies and equipment were eliminated and even normal supplies were radically curtailed. Divided into 13 classifications, equipment and supplies were taken aboard in varying quantities as follows:

Group 1, individual equipment (all the weapons, mess gear, clothes, etc., which an officer or enlisted man could carry on his person).--All of this was taken.

Group 2, baggage.--Officers were limited to one clothing roll, one bedding roll or one handbag. Enlisted men were permitted to take aboard only what they could carry in their knapsacks.

Group 3, office equipment (typewriters, pencils, paper, etc.)--All these were taken. Included in this category were medical supplies, of which enough were taken for 60 days.


Group 5, supplementary equipment.--This was reduced to necessary cleaning materials for weapons only.

Group 6, mess equipment.--This was restricted to a very few field kitchens and water bags, vacuum food carriers, camp kettles, and coffee mills.

Group 7, camp equipment (tents, etc.).--Tents were provided only for the sick bay.

Group 8, transportation (motor vehicles).--Only 50 percent of the available vehicles were taken, except amphibious tractors, all of which were taken.

Group 9, special equipment (camouflage, chemical warfare, etc.).--This category was reduced materially.

Group 10, ammunition.-- Ten units of fire, one unit of fire being the ammunition necessary to operate a weapon in one day of fighting.

Group 11, automatic supplies (rations for men, gas and oil for vehicles, etc.).--Enough for 60 days.

Group 12, replacement supplies (spare parts for guns, vehicles, etc.).--All available were taken.

Group 13, post exchange articles.--Only necessary items like soap, matches, razor blades and cigarettes were taken. No candy.

Despite the haste, inadequate dock facilities, and unfavorable weather, the ships were combat-loaded. That is, things which would be needed first on arrival in the target area were loaded last, so that they would be on top of the piles in the ships' hold or on deck. First priority was given to combat equipment, including vehicles and gasoline, and ammunition which would be needed immediately. Second came food, medical supplies, and more gasoline. Other articles were loaded in reverse order to their degree of esentiality, so that they might be unloaded with the utmost facility. "We have in each ship everything that is needed should it be necessary to detach a team (combat team) on independent duty," General Vandegrift wrote just before the ships' departure from Wellington. "I believe they (the ships) are really combat-loaded, for we have taken infinite pains and have disembarked in practice to see that things needed first come out that way."

Task Force CHARLIE, commanded by Rear Admiral V.A.C. Crutchley, R.N., which was to escort the transports from Wellington to the expeditionary force's rendezvous, sailed from Brisbane, Australia, July 14th. It arrived at Port Nicholson, North Island, New Zealand, on the 19th. Three days later on the 22d, when the transports had hurriedly completed their loading, the combined force of transports and combatant ships departed from Wellington under the command of Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, with Admiral Crutchley second in command. The transport and cargo ships, 12 in number, consisted of the following: McCawley (F),


Neville, Heywood, Libra, Hunter Liggett, Alchiba, Fomalhaut, Barnett, G.F. Elliott, Fuller, American Legion, and Bellatrix. Their escort consisted of: Australia (F), Canberra, Hobart, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Patterson, Blue, Jarvis, Ralph Talbot, Selfridge, Henley, and Mugford. Steaming in a cruising position and zigzagging, the force proceeded in an easterly direction toward the rendezvous.

Meanwhile the aircraft carriers and the seven remaining transports and cargo ships were moving west for the rendezvous. On July 1st Group THREE (the Wasp and her screen) of Task Force NEGAT left San Diego, resuming its passage to the South Pacific from the Atlantic. On this leg of her long voyage the Wasp and her escorts served as convoy to five transports, the Crescent City, President Adams, President Hayes, President Jackson, and Alhena, which had the Second Marines on board. A few days before the convoy's arrival at Nukualofa Harbor, Tongatabu, on the 18th the Wasp developed serious engine trouble and fell behind the rest of the ships. On arrival at Tongatabu repairs were speedily completed. This was no small task as it involved lifting, repairing, and replacing the Wasp's starboard H.P. turbine, and much of the preliminary work had to be done at sea. The first day after this group reached Tongatabu it was hit by a 67-knot gale, but suffered no serious damage.

Task Group ONE of Task Force NEGAT, of which the Saratoga was the principal ship, had left Pearl Harbor July 7th. Task Group TWO, of which the Enterprise and North Carolina were the major ships, departed a few days later. On July 21st Admiral Fletcher notified all commanders concerned that the 3 carrier groups and Task Force TARE (the amphibious force) would rendezvous at 1400, Zone minus 12 time, July 26th, in position latitude 23°15' S., longitude 180°00', and that a conference of commanding officers, including General Vandegrift, would be held aboard the Saratoga. this position was about 400 miles southeast of the Fiji Islands. The entire force would then proceed to Koro Island in the Fijis for rehearsal exercises.

Meanwhile, the destroyer-transports Colhoun, Little, McKean, and Gregory had left Task Group ONE, which they had been serving a antisubmarine screen, and were steaming for Noumea, New Caledonia. They arrived there July 20th and two days later proceeded to Bulari Bay, where they embarked the First Raider Battalion which had been in training there. After some landing exercises, they departed in time to meet the rest of the expeditionary force on the one hundred and eightieth meridian on July


26th. The minesweepers. which had convoyed auxiliary ships from Pearl Harbor to Tongatabu, also joined the force that afternoon. The next day, following the study and completion of plans, the combined fleets, numbering nearly 80 ships, moved north toward Koro Island for rehearsal exercises. The force was now complete except for the Zeilin and Betelgeuse, which, not having left Pearl Harbor until July 22d with the Third Defense Battalion aboard, did not join the expeditionary force until August 3d.

Throughout July the planes and men of Task Force MIKE were arriving at newly constructed airfields in the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and the Fijis, and squadrons of Navy, Army, and Royal New Zealand Air Force fighters, scouts, and bombers were poising themselves for a week of intensive reconnaissance before our ships moved into the Solomons. Where possible, jungles had been flattened and the ground hardened for the landing of heavy planes. Where time or the terrain did not permit this, Marston mats3 were sometimes laid. In addition to the assembly or relocation of the hundreds of planes involved, there was the equally important work of organizing a system of communications by which the intelligence they collected and news of the progress of our attack could be quickly and safely disseminated.


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[3] Flexible steel grids.

Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation