Army Ships
Transportation Corps Water Division

"Availability of shipping controls all decisions concerning overseas movement in 1942."

(Strategic Deployment of Land, Sea and Air Forces of U.S., Joint Staff Planners, 6 March 1942)


United States Army In World War II, The War Department, Global Logistics and Strategy 1940-1943; Robert W. Coakley and Richard M. Leighton; Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C.

Chapter II, War Plans and Emergency Preparations, pp. 63-67

Under the plan approved in February [Seize Martinique and Guadeloupe from Vichy France and prevent basing Vichy or German naval forces in the Caribbean, aborted, but the proposed forces remained all available for any such action.], Task Force 1, built around the favored 1st Division. was the only one of the three emergency forces with an equipment and training priority adequate to advance its state of readiness appreciably beyond that of the mass of the mobilizing Army--essentially the situation that had existed the preceding October. If emergency action were called for at any time in the near future, the three task forces would have to be issued the remainder of their equipment after M Day, under a hectic schedule in which Forces 1 and 3 were to jump off in ten days, Force 2 in thirty days. G-4. mindful of its recent difficulties in preparing the small Martinique-Guadeloupe forces, warned that this could not be done. Force 1 probably Could be equipped on schedule Force 2 possibly; but to outfit Force 3 now handicapped by a low priority within ten days. would be quite impossible. G-4 asserted in February:

If a situation exists which warrants a plan calling for the 100 percent equipping of a force within 30 days, action should he taken to equip that force at once. . . . It is optimistic to believe that men and transferred equipment can be assembled and dispatched as a well-trained force within 10 or 30 days.

Meanwhile, the growth of the Army's transport fleet progressed at a pace comparable to the slow expansion of its striking forces. In mid-December 1940 the War Department finally received authorization to acquire, under various forms of control some seventeen additional vessels. Further funds were allotted to modernize, overhaul, and refit the existing fleet, but the actual acquisition of these vessels was strewn with setbacks. Shipowners raised their charter rates steeply in the tightening market. Vessels ran aground, failed to pass inspection and developed mechanical defects. The owners of one chartered vessel requested and were granted, its return for Alaskan cannery operations. Technical difficulties dragged out the process of conversion for months.

The U.S. Maritime Commission, moreover, showed a growing reluctance to assign shipping permanently or for long periods to the military services, not only because the tonnage assigned would not be available for more urgent needs, but also because the services were to some degree guilty of uneconomical operating practices. The Maritime Commission early in 1941 took the Army to task for its waste of cargo space on inbound voyages; inbound cargo capacity was then at a premium because of the demands of the government's large program of importing strategic raw materials. On 1 February the President issued a manifesto on utilization of merchant shipping, ordering the military services to take over only a minimum number of vessels and to operate these at full capacity and only for essential military needs. "This is no time," the pronouncement severely stated, "to set up a reserve of Army or Navy transports or other ships, which, since we are at peace, could be put to civilian use."

The statement seemed to imply that shipping should he pooled, an idea then widely shared among officials and ship operators, but the President gave the Maritime Commission no powers and provided no mechanism for genuine pooling. The operating practices of the military transport services remained, for practical purposes, their own business, and the military fleets continued to grow, though slowly. While the commission in May received broad powers of requisition over privately owned merchant shipping, real pooling of the nation's shipping, with effective curbs on the expansion of the military transport fleets had to await the pressure of War.

From the late winter of I 940-41 on, relations between the War Department and the Maritime Commission began to improve. In an effort to win the commission's cooperation in meeting the Army's growing need for tonnage, Army transportation officials trimmed their sails to the prevailing winds. As a general practice, purchases of new tonnage were limited to those needed for "regular and permanent servicing of Army establishments"; short-term needs were met by chartering or borrowing vessels from the Maritime Commission; cargo shipments were assigned to commercial lines wherever possible. Arrangements were even made for strategic materials to be moved in Army bottoms on return voyages to the United States mainly crude rubber from the Netherlands Indies-arrangements that, Secretary Stimson pointedly reminded Rear Adm. Emory S. Land (Ret.), chairman of the Maritime Commission, were "in accordance with the President's policy" of 4 February.

Behind these concessions there were reservations. The arrangements for transporting strategic materials actually were financially advantageous to the Army and were carefully hedged to preclude long-term commitments and to assure that transports could be recalled without notice under military necessity. Present policies, as an official remarked, "would be subject to revision if a major emergency should develop." Meanwhile the concessions bore fruit. G-4 observed in July that the Maritime Commission was "on the whole, well satisfied with Army operation of its ships and . . . on the other hand, critical of the Navy's failure to give full employment to ships turned over to it."

While during the winter and spring of 1941 the Army was thus trying to build up its capacity to transport forces overseas its education in the logistics of joint task operations continued to lag. So uncertain were the Army staffs at all levels of the mathematics of computing shipping requirements that reserve supplies shipped to depots for certain of the task forces had piled up by late winter to about four times the total requirements as estimated by G 4. It developed further that the basic factors used by the Army for computing its shipping space requirements differed radically from the Navy's, a discrepancy that could cause untold confusion when the time came to set up shipping. Since the Army's factors were of hoary vintage (dating some suspected, back to World War I), WPD advised G-4 in some embarrassment to come to an agreement with the Navy on the matter. Tentative shipping factors, accordingly, were worked out jointly in March. Efforts to coordinate shipping arrangements with the Navy also promised trouble for future expeditions. G-4 found flagrant evidence of confusion and lack of control over matters relating to overseas transportation."

These experiences reflected the embryonic state of Army-Navy organization and training for joint amphibious operations. The Navy itself, responsible for all amphibious operations, was behindhand in providing transports and landing craft for its own amphibious maneuvers; in the fleet landing exercise held at Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, during the winter of 1941, the Navy had to borrow two Army transports, although no Army troops participated. The Army's role in amphibious training through 1941 was that of a poor relation. Only with the greatest difficulty was the Army able to obtain, by direct purchase, sufficient landing equipment to carry out, during the winter of 1940-41, limited exercises by the 1st Division on the east coast and by the 3d Division on the west coast. In May Admiral Stark, reviewing the Army's RAINBOW 5 plan, proposed that the two services coordinate their preparations for emergency expeditions, and ventured the opinion that the Army was pouring too much of its strength into static defense outpost positions; more effort should be given, he thought, to preparing mobile striking forces. This criticism touched a sensitive spot, not because of any dedication to the principle of static defense among the Army staff, but because the latter scented in the Navy proposal to reduce Army garrisons an attempt to secure for the Marine Corps an even larger share of scarce ammunition and equipment. General Marshall himself remarked, about this time, "My main battle is equipping the Marines. Whether we will have anything left after the British and Marines get theirs, I do not know." His staff pointed out that the Navy, not the Army, had been laggard in promoting joint amphibious training. It was in June, in fact, that the first concrete step toward joint training was taken with the organization of the lst Joint Training Force, consisting of the Marine 1st Division and the Army 1st Division; this subsequently developed into the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, which in 1942 organized the amphibious phases of the U.S. landings in Morocco. On the west coast, similarly, the 2d Joint Training Force was created in September, consisting of the Army 3d Division and the Marine 2d Division; this later became the Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet. Both Forces were under Marine command.

The first large-scale joint exercises on a divisional scale were held early in August 1941 by the Army's 1st Division and the 1st Marine Division in the New River area of the North Carolina coast, under the CARIB Plan of 21 June. Virtually every feature of the exercises was severely criticized by both Army and Navy observers. Embarkation of Army and Marine troops alike was badly snarled: because of inexperience and ignorance of officers in charge of the loading, the Army transports had to be completely reloaded before proceeding to New River, and, for lack of transports, some 1,700 marines were left behind-the climax of a process of embarkation extending over a five-week period. Troop transports proved to be inadequate in gear and facilities of all kinds. The landing was executed in daylight, with a calm sea, but an Army observer found the spectacle discouraging: men burdened with heavy packs being submerged as they scrambled Out of the boats; a Marine captain "so mad that he was almost weeping" because the Navy had sent his ammunition boats ashore in the first wave without protection; tanks plunged off ramps into deepening holes in the surf-covered sand. "One tank disappeared into a hole and was completely submerged. The driver climbed out and stood disconsolately on the turret looking for all the world like pictures you see of Jesus walking on the water." Shore organization was chaotic, responsibilities for unloading and other beach operation had not been fixed, and as a result both Army and Marine combat troops had to serve as stevedores although, according to one report, the Marines had assigned men for this purpose because "from past experience they had learned that the Navy never did it." Boxes of ammunition and rations, handed from the boats to men standing in the surf, were usually saturated. Cardboard cartons of C rations, stacked on the beach, disintegrated, "and the cans of vegetable hash mingled with the cans of meat stew in a tall silver pyramid which glistened in the sunlight, but which was difficult to distribute to kitchens." Equipment rusted ashore because lubricants had been stowed deep in ships' holds.

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Chapter VIII, Strategy, Production Goals, and Shipping; pp. 210-211

Only two avenues remained open [considering total needs, including transport required to support Britain and the Soviet Union], therefore, to provide more cargo tonnage for Army troop deployment--ruthless economy in "nonessential" uses, and further augmentation of construction programs. Somervell advocated both. His proposals of January and February involved elimination of several commercial services and reduction of others in the Western Hemisphere and to Africa. But new construction offered the only real solution. The six hundred thousand troops that it seemed likely might be deployed overseas in 1942 were only a third of the number that were expected to be trained and equipped by the end of that year. By the end of 1943 there would be at least 3.6 million troops ready for overseas service, by current indications, but under present building programs less than a million troops could be sent and maintained overseas during 1943. Evidently the Army faced a huge unemployment problem at home unless more tonnage were provided. Somervell shared the doubts of Maritime Commission officials as to the feasibility of further increases in construction in 1942, but he along with many others believed that the 1943 program could be augmented by 50 percent. With 15 million tons of new construction in 1943, forces overseas could be raised to 2,260,000. It would be fatal to accept a deployment of only 1,500,000 or 1,800,000 as "the measure of the whole productive capacity of the country and its military might. An all-out effort in this field [ship construction]," he urged Marshall to tell the President, "must precede an all-out military effort. The maximum possibilities in this regard should be determined, attained, and the Army advised of what it can expect."

The Army's hopes for a definite allocation of tonnage, preferably in a large block, did not materialize. With the creation of the War Shipping Administration (WSA) in February and the modus operandi worked out between it and the military services in May and June, U.S. merchant shipping was pooled under the tight control of WSA, and shipping other than what the services already controlled was assigned for use generally on a single voyage basis. In the field of ship construction, action came suddenly and dramatically. On 18 February General Marshall sent to the President, with little change, Somervell's strongly worded plan for an augmented program. The next day the President summoned Admiral Land to his bedroom and told him to build 9 million dead-weight tons of shipping in 1942 and 15 million in 1943, 24 million tons in all. Exactly a week before this Land had warned, "the shipbuilding cup is full to overflowing." His belief was not now changed, but orders were orders. Telephoning the news to his colleague, Rear Adm. Howard L. Vickery, who agreed that 9 million tons was more than could be produced in 1942, Land reported, "all I said was we would try."

Three months later the picture had changed. In terms of expansion of yard capacity and the acquisition of the know how, which could come only from actual experience in mass production, the shipbuilding industry had farther to go in 1942 than the munitions industry, since economic mobilization before 1942 had concentrated more on producing weapons than on producing ships. However, cargo ship construction, even more than that of many items of munitions, lent itself to standardization and mass production, and the basic task of designing had largely been completed during the prewar emergency period. By spring 1942 shipyards that had begun to build in 1941 had learned their craft so well that they were smashing records every week, finishing ships in 60 to 70 days, against a schedule based on 105 days. Deliveries rose from 26 in March and 36 in April to 57 in May and 67 in June. On Maritime Day, 22 May, Admiral Vickery publicly announced that American shipyards by the end of 1943 might be able to turn out, as their two-year total, not 24 million but 28 million dead-weight tons. Late in May and early in June some of the new capacity was already being absorbed by new orders for tank landing ships (LST's) and "baby flattop" escort carriers. Even with the addition of these types, Admiral Vickery estimated in the middle of June that the commission could produce 27.4 million tons of merchant shipping by the end of 1943, 3.4 million more than the President's goal.

If the expanding shipbuilding capacity was to be used, more steel would have to be fed into the yards, probably at the expense of other users. At a conference on 23 June, the President made remarks about "scraping the bottom of the barrel." Admiral Land, one of those present, interpreted this to mean that the goal of 24 million tons was again to be raised, but during the next two weeks the Navy and other users of steel pressed their claims upon the production authorities, and on 9 July Admiral Land learned from Donald Nelson that the President had once more set the limit for shipbuilding by the end of 1943 at 24 million tons, of which slightly more than 8 million was to be completed in 1942. Here, for the moment, the matter rested.