Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday Ship History: "Beans, Bullets, and Black Oil"

Beans, Bullets and Black Oil: The Story of Fleet Logistics Afloat in the Pacific During World War II, found here, is a remarkable work. As RADM Worrall Reed Carter says in his preface:
This is not a study in logistics. It is more a story of logistics. It is a story about the logistic services supplied to U.S. naval forces in the operating areas in the Pacific, 1941-45. It is largely an account of services rendered by means of floating facilities. It does not go into the magnificent production and supply by the industrial plants, shipyards, and naval bases of continental United States and hawaii which made possible the floating bases of distribution and maintenance. This is a story of the support of the fleet into the far reaches of the Pacific in its campaign against the Japanese. It is the story of the distribution to the fleet of the sinews of war, at times, at places, and in quantities unsuspected by the enemy until it was too late for him to do much to oppose it. This book has little or nothing to say about the building, equipping, and fitting out of new vessels, or the manufacture and shipping of the thousands of tons of thousands of different items by continental sources, without which colossal accomplishment there could have been no drive across the Pacific. This account does not attempt to furnish complete statistical figures; such statistics are matters for the technical bureaus of the Navy. This is, rather, an attempt to spin a yarn of the logistics afloat in the Pacific Fleet, in order that those interested in naval history may realize that naval warfare is not all blazing combat.
And a quite a tale it is. As Adm Raymond Spruance writes in his Introduction:
A sound logistic plan is the foundation upon which a war operation should be based. If the necessary minimum of logistic support cannot be given to the combatant forces involved, the operation may fail, or at best be only partially successful.

In a war, one operation normally follows another in a theater and each one is dependent upon what has preceded it and what is anticipated. The logistic planning has to fit into and accompany the operational planning. the two must be closely coordinated, and the planners for each must look as far into the future as they can in order to anticipate and prepare for what lies ahead.

A history of the sum total of American logistics during World War II would be forced to cover a tremendous field. The present volume deals only with naval logistics in the Pacific. As such, its scope is limited to a not-too--great portion of our entire national logistic effort. However, the area involved--the Pacific Ocean--is the one where our maximum naval effort was expended. Distances in that ocean were very great, and the resources available to us form friendly countries in the Western Pacific were comparatively minor, in both variety and quantity. Nearly everything our forces required had to come form or through the United States, with the exception of the large amounts of petroleum products originating in the Caribbean area and moving west through the Panama Canal.

The study of our naval logistic effort in the Pacific, as outlined in the present volume, brings out our dependence on both shore bases and mobile floating bases such as are exemplified by Service Squadron Ten. Each had its advantages, and neither alone could have done the job.
The growth of Service Squadron Ten, its movement across the Pacific to successive bases at Eniwetok, then Ulithi and then Leyte, and its continuous and most efficient service to the fleet at these and numerous other bases where it stationed ships and representatives as our operations demanded, are achievements of which all Americans can be justly proud, but about which most of them have little or no knowledge.
RADM Carter was tasked to provide some of that knowledge. And his tale begins:
From 7 December1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, until they admitted defeat in August 1945, our fleet continuously grew. During those stirring and difficult times, the accounts of ship actions, air strikes, and amphibious operations make up the thrilling combat history of the Pacific theater. Linked inseparably with combat is naval logistic support, the support which makes available to the fleet such essentials as ammunition, fuel, food, repair services--in short, all the necessities, at the proper time and place and in adequate amounts. This support, from advanced bases and from floating mobile service squadrons and groups, maintained the fleet and enabled it to take offensive action farther from home supply points than was ever before thought possible, and this is the story which will be told here.
That things were changed forever by the efforts of a few during that war is best understood by Fleet sailors when they read about the changes WWII made in as routine an operation as refueling at sea:
Fueling under way at sea was then looked upon somewhat as an emergency stunt which might have to be resorted to in wartime, and therefore probably required occasional practice. Few ever thought it would become so routine a matter that it would be accomplished with ease in all kinds of weather except gales.
And how the Service Force grew!
In 1940 the Base Force Train included a total of 51 craft of all types, among them 1 floating drydock of destroyer capacity. By 1945 the total was 315 vessels, every one of them needed. The 14 oilers which were all the Navy owned in 1940 had leaped to 62, in addition to merchant tankers which brought huge cargoes of oil, aviation gasoline, and Diesel fuel to bases where the Navy tankers took them on board for distribution to the fleet. No less than 21 repair ships of various sizes had supplanted the 2 the Navy had 5 years before. The battleships had 3 floating drydocks, the cruisers 2, and the destroyers 9, while small craft had 16. Hospital ships had risen from 1 to 6, and in addition there were 3 transport evacuation vessels, while the ammunition ships numbered 14, plus 28 cargo carriers and 8 LST's (Landing Ship, Tanks).
That was not the only growth,

by the end of July 1945, a few weeks before hostilities ended, it had no less than 2,930 ships, including those of Service Force Seventh Fleet...
There were 305 planes in the Utility Wing. The total of personnel was 30,369 officers and 425,945 enlisted men, or approximately one-sixth of the entire naval service at the peak of the war.
Every ship required a trained crew to man the engine rooms, the guns, chart the courses, load the "beans, bullets and black oil" and then deliver them to the rest of the fleet. And every base required sailors to function.

Were there heroes among them? Start with the man at the top:
At the time of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor, Rear Admiral W.L. Calhoun commanded the Base Force (NB E1-during the war the Base Force became the Service Force), the there and had his flag in the U.S.S. Argonne. Overnight his duties increased enormously. Thousands of survivors of the attack had nothing but the clothes they wore, which in many cases consisted of underwear only. These naval personnel had to be clothed, fed, quartered, re-recorded, and put on new payrolls with the utmost expedition in order to make them available for assignment anywhere. There were hundreds of requests for repairs, ammunition, and supplies of all kinds.

Calhoun expanded his staff to three times its original size, and despite the excitement, confusion, diversity of opinion, uncertainty, and shortages of everything, he brilliantly mustered order from what could easily have been chaos. Calhoun, soon promoted to vice admiral, continued as Commander of the Service Force until 1945, and the remarkable cooperation, hustle, and assistance rendered by his command are unforgettable. This was especially true in the advanced areas. Any duty to which the term "service" could be applied was instantly undertaken on demand; this contributed enormously to the fleet efficiency, and, in consequence, to the progress of the campaign. No single command contributed so much in winning the war with Japan as did the Service Force of the Pacific Fleet. It served all commands, none of which could have survived alone. Neither could all of them combined have won without the help of the Service Force. It is deserving of much higher public praise than it ever received, and, most of all, its activities should be a matter of deepest concern and study by all who aspire to high fleet commands.
How tough were things at the beginning? The operations against the Japanese in the Java Sea provide an example:
Four days previous--3 February--the Japanese had bombed us out of Soerabaja, and on the 10th practically the entire Asiatic Fleet, with
Train, had gathered at Tjilatjap, Java. But there was not security anywhere. A week later, on 17 February, the Trinity had to go all the way to Abadan, Iran, for oil. The Japanese had shut off or captured every East Indian source except a very small supply from the interior of Java, so this dangerous voyage of more than 5,000 miles was necessary. The oiler Pecos was also scheduled to refill in the Persian Gulf, but was sunk--with the Langley survivors on board--by the enemy on 1 March, just after getting started for Colombo, Ceylon.
And the Dolittle Raiders whose 65th anniversary we just celebrated:
Then came the very dramatic raid on Tokyo, the comparative value of which may never fully decided. It kept carriers, tankers, other ships, and planes away from the South Pacific where they might well have been used to turn the balance from defensive to offensive weeks earlier. However, the heartening effect upon the nation may have been worth it. On 2 April, Task Force Eighteen, composed of the carrier Hornet (Captain Marc Mitscher), the heavy cruiser Vincennes, Destroyer Division Twenty-two, and the tanker Cimarron (Captain H.J. Redfield), sailed from San Francisco. On 8 April, Cimarron fueled destroyers Gwin and Grayson. The next day which was set for fueling was too rough. On the 10th the Vincennes was fueled and on the 11th the remaining destroyers took some from the Hornet. On 12 April the Hornet supplied 400,000 gallons of fuel oil in latitude 38°30'N., longitude 175°00' W. On the next day Task Force Eighteen and Task Force Sixteen (Halsey) joined. The latter was composed of the Enterprise; cruisers Northampton, Nashville, and Salt Lake City; Destroyer Division Six; and the tanker Sabine. Three days later, 17 April (14 April was lost crossing the 180° Meridian), the Sabine fueled the Enterprise group, and the Cimarron did the same for the Hornet group, with some destroyers getting their fuel from the heavy ships. This was at latitude 35°'30' N., longitude 157°00' E., approximately. There the destroyers and tankers left the striking force and turned back on an easterly course. After dispatching the B-25's on their Tokyo mission the next day the whole force retired at high speed to the eastward and on 21 April were met and again fueled by the Cimarron and Sabine in latitude 35°45' N., longitude 176°00' E., approximately. Then all proceeded to Pearl, where it was hurry up all logistics and get off to the South Pacific where the Japs looked very threatening...
These are but early highlights. This work needs to be read and appreciated.

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