One of the regrettable conditions pertaining to the present war is the fact that considerations of security prevent most of the Navy’s achievements being made public at a time when the American people are vitally interested and opinions formed are most apt to be lasting. Even such documents as the King Report, issued long after the events, cannot hope to reach more than a small number of those persons who are especially interested.
There is, nevertheless, one field in which the record is considerably clearer and more detailed than elsewhere. A recital of American accomplishments in the field of procurement, as President Roosevelt has said, can hardly now be of either aid or comfort to the enemy. And the mass of detail contained in various reports in this field, while far from complete, does reveal the broad outlines of a story which should be publicized.
It would probably be impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Navy’s task of building up its strength. Prior to Pearl Harbor the fleet enjoyed a better state of material preparation than ever before upon entering war. Nevertheless the first few months of war demonstrated that it was not equal to its responsibilities. Lacking sufficient strength to cope with all of them simultaneously, it fought a successful holding war in the Pacific, battled U-boats in the Atlantic (for a year with only slight success), while it concentrated a very large share of its energy on the unglamorous but absolutely essential task of rapidly building up new combat strength in preparation for future offensives. The excellence and speed with which this latter task has been performed are at the basis of the victory in the Atlantic won in 1943 and the current strong situation in the Pacific.
In building the most powerful navy known to history the country enjoyed the advantage of a good start. The 1940 “Two-Ocean Navy” legislation had made an excellent beginning on a grand scale, and many of the ships of that large program were either on the building ways or existed in blueprint form when the war broke out. During 1942 a mass of additional legislation provided among other things: (1) 200,000 additional tons of submarines, to be built as soon as shipping yards were cleared, (2) 500,000 tons of cruisers, (3) 500,000 tons allotted to plane carriers, (4) 900,000 tons of destroyers and destroyer escorts, (5) approximately 1,200,000 tons of auxiliaries of various classes, (6) increase in the allotment of naval planes from 15,000 to 27,500. Under these acts the combat tonnage of the Navy would ultimately stand at 5,650,000 tons, that of auxiliary types at 2,550,000 for a total of 8,200,000. Supplementary legislation between 1942 and 1944 cared for some additional items which had at first been overlooked, such as expansion of dry-dock facilities, lighter-than-air aviation, and increased procurement of landing craft.
In certain respects the above figures are misleading. It has been found possible to cut back the programs for destroyer escorts and submarines. On the other hand, the tonnage given for plane carriers obviously does not cover dozens of converted plane carriers which have given abundant proof of their existence.
The actual execution of this immense program has been in the hands of the Under Secretary of the Navy and about six admirals. James V. Forrestal, former Under Secretary, has probably had the most active part in the program though Under Secretary Ralph Bard should not be overlooked. On the military as distinguished from the civilian side of the Navy Department the most important figure has been Vice Admiral Samuel M. Robinson. His importance has arisen from his position as Chief of the Office of Procurement and Material, a post long recommended by former Secretary Charles Edison but only created on January 30, 1942. This position is really that of a Chief of Staff for procurement. Of slightly lower rank were the chiefs of five bureaus: Rear Admirals Edward L. Cochrane, successor to Robinson, and A. H. Van Keuren of the all- important Bureau of Ships, William H. P. Blandy of Ordnance, John Towers and John S. McCain of Aeronautics, Ben Moreell of Yards and Docks and William B. Young of Supplies and Accounts. Too many facts are missing to permit the passing of judgment on the work of these bureaus. The general results have been good. There has, however, been a certain amount of criticism, favorable and otherwise, regarding the work of the Bureaus of Ordnance and Ships.
In the building program, which gathered rapid headway during late 1942 and all of 1943 and 1944, priority shifted from one type to another. Immediately after Pearl Harbor those ships of the battleship program which could readily be finished were speeded up while the five 58,000-ton units of the Montana class were suspended. Efforts were made to render the type as nearly nonsinkable and as dangerous to enemy aircraft as possible. However, the building of the six Iowas was not greatly hastened, and no new programs for later battle wagons were announced.
On the other hand, war experience had indicated a great need for plane carriers for battle and escort purposes and these vessels received top priority during 1942 and 1943. Next in order were patrol craft and submarine chasers, which served as substitutes in the Battle of the Atlantic until destroyer escorts and plane carriers could be finished. Late in 1943 the need for landing craft to use in the forthcoming invasion brought the numerous types of ships under that heading to the fore.
With the airplane carrier largely usurping the battleship’s place as the capital ship of World War II the program for turning out flat-tops came to have enormous importance. While complete details will have to await the conclusion of the war, four or five different types of carriers have been described in press releases. Largest were a few 45,000-ton ships designed to accommodate medium bombers larger and with longer ranges than the 16 Army planes that found a highly uneasy resting place aboard the Hornet prior to the raid on Tokyo. More numerous were the 13 vessels of the 27,000-ton Essex class. Somewhat faster and better protected as a result of the digestion of lessons learned in actual combat, they were basically of the Enterprise type. Unofficial reports gave them a battery of sixteen 5-inch guns in addition to smaller calibers and a speed of 35 knots. The first eight were launched well before the end of 1943 with the remainder being rapidly completed. Several of the class have been identified in connection with 1943 and 1944 naval battles. It seems likely that most of the 500,000 tons allotted to carriers under the 1942 naval bill has been devoted to ships of this type.
Smaller but still extremely formidable were the 10,000-ton carriers converted to the class from cruiser hulls of the Cleveland type. Of this type and apparently all finished during 1943 were the Independence, Princeton, Belleau Wood, Cowpens, Monterey, Cabot, Langley, Bataan, and San Jacinto. Of less value were the flat-tops made from merchant hulls. The first of these, Long Island, a none too successful experimental type, has been described as carrying more than 21 fighters. Able to make only some 16 to 17 knots, she could still keep up with the average convoy and send out her planes to look for submarines. One other type of escort carrier, turned out by Henry Kaiser in his Pacific coast yards, was named after bays, islands, rivers, and other geographical features. Descriptions, beyond the fact that the ships could turn in a very small circle and had a flight deck about 500 feet long, have been of the sketchiest. The fact that some of these carriers have been active members of Pacific task forces would argue a much higher cruising speed than that reached by the Long Island. Fifty carriers of this type were finished during 1943 and additional units were being completed at an enormous rate in 1944.
No great change has occurred in the types of cruisers being built. The Navy is still turning out fast 6,000-ton vessels intended to have predominance in the size range between destroyer and light cruiser, 10,000- ton light cruisers of the Cleveland class, a few 13,000-ton heavies, and six battle cruisers of the Alaska class. Save in a few instances the names of ships of the 1942 program have not been publicized at the time of writing. The heavy cruisers of the 1940 program, probably all now commissioned, include the Quincy, Rochester, Boston, Pittsburgh, St. Paul, Albany, Columbus, Des Moines, and Canberra. Thirty-two light cruisers ordered in 1940 have presumably mostly been finished though in some cases as plane carriers. On the whole cruiser construction has proceeded at only moderate speed. In its cruiser design the Navy is tending to emphasize armor protection and anti-aircraft fire power in contrast to gun power of the main battery. Thus the Clevelands are 20 per cent weaker than the Brooklyns in 6-inch gunfire though the anti-aircraft battery is much more desirable. The maturity of the bomber has also caused attention to be focused on speed. A ship capable of steaming at 30 or more knots has an excellent chance of dodging aerial bombs and torpedoes. Thus the once fallacious maxim of Sir John Fisher, “Speed is armor,” is coming to be partly correct.
Aside from carriers the greatest emphasis in combat categories was placed on the building of ships of the destroyer class. As in World War I all kinds of demands have been made on the little craft and at least in the early part of the war no commander ever has had enough destroyers. This early war destroyer famine was relieved in two ways. One was the construction of large numbers of patrol craft and sub-chasers during 1942. The other was the development of a specialized type for convoy work known as the destroyer escort. About the same size as the old “flush deck” destroyers of 1918, the destroyer escorts carried somewhat lighter guns and were several knots slower. These relieved many regular destroyers from convoy duty, and by late 1943 the anti-submarine measures had become so effective that the program for destroyer escorts could in turn be largely curtailed. In 1944 the Navy was producing two main types, the 2,000-ton boats and slightly larger flotilla leaders of 2,200 tons. Among other surprises the naval war in the Pacific revealed that the Japanese destroyers were frequently larger and better armed than their American counterparts, a fact which probably explains their frequent wrong identification as light cruisers. During the first half of 1944 between two and three destroyers a week were being finished in American yards.
Submarines were not emphasized in building plans to the same extent as other types. Only two new yards were established in addition to the three existing at the beginning of the war. If wide changes occurred in the building plans of submarines they have not been revealed. Practically every ship finished was a long range boat of about 1,500 tons and carried a 3-inch deck gun and machine gun in addition to the ten torpedo tubes which constituted the main armament.
As in the past the Navy entered World War II short of auxiliary vessels. Following previous practice it took over a large number of auxiliary vessels for conversion as well as private yachts and pleasure boats. A tremendous number of new ships, many belonging to quite new types, were ordered. Of landing craft alone 16 distinct types have received mention in addition to hybrids and alterations on a basic pattern.
The sheer volume of landing craft and their uses would alone stun anyone whose thinking in matters of war dated back to the 1930’s. The program, when finished, will mean twice the tonnage of landing craft alone that was in the Navy in the form of combat tonnage as recently as 1939. The development is especially noteworthy when it is recalled that up to 1937 the Navy had done practically nothing in this field. Then the war called for the development of specialized types and many new models were produced. The LST (Landing Ship Tank) carried a crew of 64 and had an over-all length of 328 feet. The LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) was given an abnormally shallow draft and used for special landing operations. With a length of 157 feet it was expected to run up on a beach and debark 200 men over the port bow ramps. The LSD (Landing Ship Dock) was 450 feet in length and was really a floating dock. The LCT (Landing Craft Tank) was a smaller boat of some 105 feet whose purpose was the landing of tanks and other weapons on beaches. Much controversy surrounded the LCM, a 50-foot tank lighter. The Bureau of Ships chose its own model without adequate testing in preference to that of Mr. Andrew J. Higgins and was later compelled to turn to Higgins when its own model proved inefficient. The alert Truman Committee, observing the mistake made, issued a highly critical report but one which unfortunately had a distorted perspective and overlooked the fine over-all picture of landing craft procurement. Among other types included were personnel landing boats, amphibious tanks, assault craft, and repair ships for landing craft.
A fairly good picture of progress made in procurement was provided by periodical reports issued by the Navy. By 1943 these reports gave a picture of a program gaining terrific momentum. During that year the vessels in commission were doubled while combat tonnage went up 60 per cent. On September 19, 1943, the Navy Department’s production report stated that the surface fleet, combat and otherwise (including district craft), numbered 14,072 units of about 5,000,000 tons—roughly 62 per cent of the ultimate total. On hand were 18,000 of the 27,500 planes which the Navy had set as its quota. Six and a half billion dollars of shore facilities had been finished. War losses at the time included a battleship, 4 carriers, 9 cruisers, 32 destroyers, and 9 submarines, while 129 vessels had been given to the Allies or transferred to noncombat service. The total of ships lost or given up amounted to 484,000 tons. During 1942, 847,000 tons of warships had been finished, while 1,091,368 tons had been completed during the first half of 1943. The latter figure included 375,- 000 tons of landing craft. Both warships and planes, which were termed “the spearhead of attack,” had greatly improved in efficiency. The new battleships’ weight of anti-aircraft fire had multiplied a hundred times over that of 1940. Early in 1944 in the course of a speech in New York City the then Under Secretary of the Navy Forrestal stated that the number of combat planes had tripled during 1943. On January 26, 1944, the Navy in its report on 1943 building activities stated that the 45,000-ton Iowa and New Jersey had been commissioned, besides 11 cruisers, 15 carriers, 50 escort carriers, 128 destroyers, 306 destroyer escorts, and 56 submarines. A month and a half earlier a report on landing craft revealed 20,000 additional units projected as well as 15,000 small craft. Progress continued to be rapid on landing craft and by mid-1944 the problem of supplying transportation for invasion appeared to be satisfactorily solved.
On March 28, 1944, the Truman Committee issued an exceedingly comprehensive report covering naval procurement. It found that between July, 1940, and January, 1944, 762 fighting ships of 2,332,893 tons had been added to the Navy. The smaller units, mostly landing craft, numbered 28,472. Included in this total were also 764 mine craft, 1,239 patrol craft, and 1,802 district craft. In all,4,000, 000 tons had been added. Seventy-five per cent of this represented 1943 work despite the fact that the peak of construction had not yet been reached. The use of man power and facilities had steadily become more efficient. Thus man hours per destroyer had been cut from 1,700,000 to 1,000,000, per destroyer escort from 1,200,000 to 550,000, PT boat 65,000 to 35,000, and LST 750,000 to 450,000. One yard had launched a DE less than five days from the laying of the keel. The aviation picture was equally impressive. In December, 1943, 2,000 planes, almost exclusively of combat types, had been delivered as compared with 288 two years previously. In the same period the pilots had increased from 7,631 to 35,859, the naval air stations from 75 to 235 and practice fields from 517 to 752. Merchant ships were being armed at the rate of 2,000 a year. Officer personnel had gone up from 35,000 to 219,000, enlisted men from 290,000 to 2,035,000, and nurses from 787 to 7,022. Progress attained in Ordnance, Medicine and Surgery, and in other bureaus had been impressive.
The accomplishment of this tremendous feat would have been quite out of the question had not former Under Secretary Forrestal and his aides continued the fine work initiated by ex-Secretary Charles Edison in speeding up shipbuilding. A great deal of red-tape cutting resulted in lowering the construction time for all types of ships. Before the end of 1942 battleship building time had been brought from 42 months to 36. Cruisers were built in less than two-thirds of the usual time requirement; destroyer building time went down from 27.2 to 11.6 months and that of submarines from 21.2 to 11.5. The degree of further progress was revealed by the King Report which put the figure for battleships at 32, carriers 16, destroyers 6, and submarines 7. While the time schedules of the 1930’s were usually far too leisurely, the speed-up was nevertheless remarkable. Under the impact of many hands working at top speed the 1940 program for a two-ocean navy was being finished years ahead of all original estimates while the bulk of that for 1942, first scheduled for completion in 1947, seemed likely to be finished before the end of 1945. Probably no greater construction project was ever performed in anything like equivalent time.
The expansion in personnel kept pace or rather more than kept pace with the expansion of ships, since in time of war vessels are given abnormally large complements. Nine months after the declaration of war the Navy contained about 700,000 officers and men. By the end of 1943 this figure had more than trebled. In the course of a statement made on March 19, 1944, Secretary Knox stated that 550,000 men would be drawn by Selective Service to provide a total of 3,700,000 by the end of 1944. Even this was not the maximum strength. As of that date there were 240,000 officers and 2,270,000 men in the Navy. Marine Corps strength was 424,000 and that of the Coast Guard 171,000. This sheer volume of naval man power can only be appreciated by comparison of such a figure with the approximately 600,000 to see service in the United States Navy during World War I and the less than 100,000 maintained during most of the 1920’s.
The problem of training and indoctrination of new personnel was a major one. Peace-time training schedules were curtailed but made more intense while veterans returning from action imparted a touch of sternness and realism to preparation for war that only war itself could bring. War experience speedily taught the service that pre-war training, though based on a Pacific War, had been far from thorough in such essentials as establishment of bases, jungle fighting, and making landings under fire. Shakedown cruises, too, had to be shortened and intensified. In order to spread the available know-how as evenly as possible the cadre system, involving large scale shifting of experienced personnel to new ships, was adopted. Thus each ship was supposed to contain about 60 per cent veterans, 20 per cent of men on their second cruise, and 20 per cent newcomers. In practice the proportion of green men was often higher, not uncommonly being as high as 60 or 80 per cent.
The officer corps presented many problems of its own. Future needs were in part cared for by successive V-l, V-5, V-7, and V-12 programs whereby selected youths were kept in college for later use. Annapolis was shifted to a five-appointment, three-year basis. Naval ROTC’s furnished some material while pre-flight centers for naval aviators were set up at four universities. Naval reserves and men on the retirement list were called back into active service. Thousands of men were given reserve commissions directly out of civilian life, though these men, save in exceptional cases, went through a period of indoctrination and training before entering into active service. The naval training schools were at Columbia, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Cornell Universities, Plattsburg, New York, and Annapolis. Warrant officers and petty officers of exceptional ability were likewise commissioned. One personnel measure of great wisdom was that which made all war promotions temporary, thus untying the Navy’s hands in the future.
As in the case of the work of the bureaus concerned with construction, an accurate critique of the Navy’s personnel policies will have to await more information than is now publicly available. Comparatively little criticism has been directed from any source against the Navy’s policies regarding the recruiting and indoctrination of enlisted men. So far as the commissioned force is concerned the situation has been less happy. Among both newspaper columnists and the general public the early days of the war witnessed persistent charges that the Navy in giving reserve commissions was guilty of discrimination against negroes, Jews, and political liberals, and tended to give disproportionate weight to social position and wealth. Since numerous concrete instances were offered by many of the critics this charge is one which should be carefully investigated during the post-war period.
Several special organizations created by war needs rendered fine service. Women’s auxiliaries were organized for Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps. These women worked at noncombat jobs in order to free men for active duty. The splendid work done by each converted higher officers who were at first none too enthusiastic, and during 1943 and 1944 new and intensive recruitment drives attempted, with only fair success, to swell the number of women in service. More important than these from the standpoint of actual progress of the war were the Seabees. These consisted of skilled workers representing at first some sixty trades who enlisted at naval pay rates to practice their respective trades in the war zones. They were suggested by the problem of what to do with the civilian workers at Wake during the Japanese attack. Seabees were trained both to fight and work. During the first two years of their existence the strength increased from 3,300 to 262,000. As everyone connected with them knows, their services, rendered at great personal danger and in the most difficult situations, have been beyond praise.
During the early days of the war naval aviation received a considerable amount of criticism on the basis of the alleged superiority of the Zero to the American planes brought against it. The Zero did have a greater rate of climb and superior maneuverability—qualities which it gained at the sacrifice of all other vital features. Special tactics to cope with these qualities had to be worked out, but once they were worked out American aviators took a far heavier toll of the enemy. By late 1942 even the few advantages of the Japanese planes were disappearing as the Navy put Grumman Hellcats and Vought Corsairs into operation in large numbers. The addition of the Avenger torpedo plane and the Curtiss Helldiver completed a murderer’s row of American planes superior to anything the Japanese could put into battle. During all of 1943 and 1944 it was apparent that there was a widening gulf in quality of both men and machines between the two Pacific foes. Lopsided ratios of five, ten, and twenty Jap planes shot down for each American were not uncommon.
Certain subsidiary forms of aviation received scattered attention during the Navy’s expansion. A glider program was launched after the Germans had demonstrated the glider’s utility. Some individuals suggested the adoption of helicopters and autogiros for patrol purposes over the Atlantic, arguing that the small take-off area needed would fit these machines for being carried on an ordinary merchant vessel, while their ability to hover and their eccentric movements would make them peculiarly valuable in the detection of and escape from submarines. The Navy did not regard these types with much enthusiasm, however, and hearings before Naval Affairs Committees of Congress emphasized two weaknesses—inability to lift much weight and lack of defensive strength. Blimps were built in large numbers and proved useful in patrol work but the Navy did not go back to the construction of large airships like the Akron and Macon.
The largest expansion of facilities on land occurred during 1942 rather than 1943. Brassey’s Naval Annual for 1942 (p. 62) reported that American shore establishments had increased from seven main naval bases in the pre-war period to a total of 301 main and auxiliary bases and training stations by the end of the year. Meantime, private yards had been further expanded. On September 9, 1942, Chairman Vinson of the House Naval Affairs Committee reported that there were 120 private shipyards doing business on the Atlantic coast, 60 on the Pacific, 30 on the Great Lakes, 25 on the Gulf of Mexico, and 20 on the Mississippi. Many of these, of course, were preoccupied with merchant shipbuilding. The larger warships were mostly being built by the older private firms or in navy yards. Especially fine records were being made by Newport News with battleships and carriers, by Bath with destroyers, and by Bethlehem-Hingham with destroyer escorts and landing craft.
Far-reaching changes in the organization of the Navy were found necessary for efficient prosecution of the war. Many of these changes are still secret while others are continuing. Probably the most publicized change in the early days of the war was the combining in the person of Admiral King of the posts of Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet and the Chief of Naval Operations. Under plans which reached the press in 1942 the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral Frederick J. Horne, was to be given Assistant Chiefs in various fields. His group was a rough equivalent of a general staff so far as the planning and conduct of logistics was concerned and was not dissimilar to the organization of bureau chiefs headed by the Under Secretary of Navy on the procurement side of naval administration. The various Assistant Chiefs assisting Vice Admiral Horne were given authority over logistics planning for surface and air, fleet and base maintenance, and communication and transport. They were given authority. over those bureaus whose work directly concerned them. For example, the old Bureau of Navigation was renamed Bureau of Personnel and this and Medicine and Surgery were placed under an Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Personnel. A second and combat line of command descended through first Vice Admiral Russell Willson and later Vice Admiral R. S. Edwards who served as chiefs of staff to Admiral King in his capacity as Commander in Chief.
Even more marked were changes in organization at sea. The task force became the normal means of exercising naval power and much of the fleet organization inherited from pre-war days was broken down. Early in February, 1942, after the days of the Asiatic Fleet and its successor, ABDAfloat, were numbered, the Navy created a Southwest Pacific Force. On February 20 an Amphibious Force was organized to consist of (a) transports and amphibious vessels, (b) amphibious corps, (c) supporting units. On March 1 the Base Force in the Pacific and Train in the Atlantic were renamed Service Forces, paralleling changes which had recently taken place in the Army. In March the naval units in European waters were titled: United States Naval Forces, Europe. About a month later fleet type commands were created over Battleships, Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers, Service Forces, Amphibious Force, Submarine Force, and Patrol Wings; and the old Battle Force and Scouting Force organization was discontinued. On May 17 a North Pacific Force was set up. In June, 1942, the limits of jurisdiction of the Commander in Chief and the Vice
Chief of Naval Operations were more rigidly defined. To Admiral King went direct command of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, the Sea Frontier Forces, and Special Task Forces; while Admiral Horne was to direct Naval Local Defense Forces, the Naval Transportation Service, and Naval District Craft. Later in the month a South Pacific Force was created and put under Admiral King. A further step in organization was the setting up of new fleets. While some of these have never been identified either by name or number, those mentioned in the press include North Pacific, Australia-New Zealand, South Pacific, Southwest Pacific, European, North Atlantic, and South Atlantic. Doubtless others will be shortly identified.
Besides the major changes in department and fleet organization there have been hundreds of minor alterations to meet new conditions. Nothing short of a most comprehensive history of the Navy in the present war could even begin to indicate the more important. Fortunately the service as a whole is realizing the value of a complete record of events and today’s achievements are being chronicled with far more completeness than was the case in World War I.
The tremendous task of the Navy at home has been well done on the whole, though it has not always been even in quality. In the field of procurement, outstanding and even “impossible” results have been attained. In a few instances the Navy has paid too much for what it received, as in 1942 when individual profits as high as 1,768 per cent were reported where the average profit on naval contracts was a more moderate 8.1 per cent. Later hearings before Naval Affairs Committees of House and Senate, while not entirely conclusive, do not indicate many profit figures in excess of 10 per cent. Some of the Navy’s planning has not been forward-looking and has been scored in Congress as a result. Alleged favoritism and discrimination have also aroused criticism and naval censorship and public relations policies have at times had few civilian admirers. But occasional mistakes—and every country and military service in the present war has made many—should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the Navy has risen to the challenge of war by achieving one of the greatest construction tasks of all history.