The ultimate test of a peacetime naval organization in our democracy is the rapidity of its expansion into an effective offensive service whenever the international atmosphere appears threatening. Much of the present organization that has been effected since the war is the result of lessons recently learned. A skeleton peacetime organization that will not function effectively after the flesh of rapid war expansion has filled out the bony framework will not meet the fundamental requirements for national defense. The improvised and frequent changes in organization during the war are being studied now at the Naval War College, the National War College, and in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Some activities in the Navy have already placed into effect those organizational changes which will make their branches of the service not only more efficient in peace but capable of rapid expansion whenever necessary. The reorganized port director activities under the Naval Transportation Service offer a good example of such improvement.
One of the branches of our Navy which was not organized for emergency expansion was the Naval Transportation Service. In fact, it was such a small organization, operating only a relatively few vessels, that in the early part of the war the Army found it necessary to expand greatly its own ocean-going service and to take over a large part of the traditional combat carrying duty of the U. S. Navy.
A similar weakness and lack of expansibility existed in the Port Director organization, a branch of the Naval Transportation Service. Before the last war, a few Port Directors were stationed in some continental ports, but they were “Directors” in name only, actually serving as field representatives of the Chief of the Naval Transportation Service. Consequently, in the period between World War I and World War II one of the perplexing and often irritating problems of commanding ships was to learn how to obtain essential services, particularly in an unfamiliar port. From whom could correct information on matters of uniform, liberty hours, official calls, shore patrol requirements, and all the other ship-shore relationships be obtained readily? The frequent changes in the physical location of the Senior Officer Present Afloat and also in his identity introduced complexities in obtaining information of even a routine logistical nature. There was no Port Director skeleton organization to provide for the routing and convoying of merchant ships, coordination and procurement of merchant vessels for assignment to the Naval Transportation Service, or an effective liaison with other transportation agencies, private as well as government. The Port Director did not operate the port in which he was stationed nor provide the logistic services to the ships there. The many detailed requirements of Forces Afloat were handled by several activities, principally by an organization then known as Commander Base Force.
When the war threatened, efficiency demanded the establishment of a centralized activity in each port which could provide logistic services to all ships present. Port Director components were included in Advance Base organizations, and Port Director offices were set up in all the large United States ports. As the war progressed, Port Director activities began functioning in the forward areas as soon as authority for the control of a port was shifted from the Commander of the Forces Afloat to the Commander of Shore Based Forces. Advance Base Port Director organizations were designed to care for all needs of itinerant combat, auxiliary, and merchant shipping in an Advance Base port, particularly the shipping assigned to servicing Combatant Forces Ashore and Afloat.
One of the most common operational despatches during the war and continued in the peace began with “when RFS (ready for sea), obtain routing from Port Director . . . ” As part of their wartime functions, Port Directors formed convoys, conducted convoy conferences, undocked the transports and scheduled harbor sorties. In addition Port Directors designated the route to be sailed in many ocean areas in accordance with Navy Department directives, and furnished convoy commodores with the latest hydrographic information, submarine data, and mine warnings.
Routing is still one of the functions of a Port Director. There are many areas not yet free of mines, necessitating that shipping be advised of the sea lanes which have been cleared and the ports which are considered free of submarine charges, sunken hulks, and other war wreckage. Where such dangers still exist, the Port Director’s routing officer will have the latest advice available for delivery to the Captain who has reported for routing.
There are also some peacetime high seas hazards which the Port Director routing officer assists in eliminating. One is the concentration of ships holding underwater or high speed surface maneuvers or conducting gunnery practices in areas through which other ships, not forewarned, might steam. In addition, experimental firings of long range controlled weapons sometimes requires that all ships be diverted considerable distances from normal steamer lanes. And because our postwar Navy includes a variety of small craft which may not have the latest hydrographic and Coast Guard advisories, the little ships are invariably directed to report to the Port Director for routing, which includes the latest information on dangerous areas. Occasionally, small ships are directed to report to the Port Director for “onward routing”—either to sail in company with other ships or to pick up a tow or two. This makes it necessary that Port Directors keep garage space for transients parked in port, rig tows for sea, and route them when they leave.
The soundness of the policy of having a centralized activity in each port to assist Forces Afloat was not only tested in the recent war but verified during the demobilization period when the services of Port Directors facilitated ships in making rapid “turn arounds.” Now the postwar Navy is learning that Port Directors are ready assistants in providing port services of almost every conceivable type. Furthermore, Port Director boarding officers not only advise a Captain in from sea of the services available but make him feel that someone in port is ready to give him a hand with his problems.
As soon as it is learned that a ship is en route to a port which has a Port Director Office, the name of that ship is posted on an “Incoming Ship Information Board” and the ETA (estimated time of arrival) is kept up- to-date by subsequent despatch information from the ship. Twenty-four hours before arrival in port, the Port Director sends a despatch advising the vessel where to dock or moor, whether pilots and tugs will be available, and how passengers and cargo will be handled. A Port Director Boarding Officer either boards the ship in the channel as it is standing in, or is on the dock ready to board with the answers to most of the routine questions Captains and Executive Officers ask upon arrival in port. The Boarding Officer is usually prepared to inform the Captain of the contemplated shifts of berth while his ship is in port, and the approximate date of departure, together with the available information on his future movements. In addition he usually presents the ship with a pamphlet compiled by the Port Director with all pertinent information concerning services and local port regulations.
Boarding officers are not the only personnel in a Port Director’s organization who answer questions. The ship’s information desk, a Navy “Marine Exchange,” manned only by the most patient, long-suffering personnel, not only advises the public, Navy activities, and Navy dependents on the immediate location of the various units of the Fleet, but they must know Fleet schedules to answer such questions as, “Where will the Ticonderoga be next month?”
There are several officers connected with the operation of the larger United States continental ports, and the similarity of their titles makes for confusion. One is the “Captain of the Port,” or “Port Captain,” as he is sometimes called. This officer is a Coast Guard Official whose duties include: the issuance of permits for harbor entry of Merchant vessels carrying explosives; enforcement of the Federal oil pollution regulations; the checking of small craft (yachts and fishing vessels) to insure that they have proper life saving apparatus and fire fighting equipment on board, and that it is in good condition; the control of Merchant ship anchorage areas; and taking possession of domestic and foreign vessels “whenever it appears that such action is necessary in order to secure such vessel from damage or injury, or to prevent damage or injury to any harbor or waters of the United States, or to secure the observance of the rights and obligations of the United States.” His functions do not, however, include the operation of the U. S. Lighthouse Service which was taken over by the Coast Guard from the Department of Commerce in 1939 and which is now administered by the Aids to Navigation Section of the District Coast Guard Operations Division.
Prior to 1917 the Coast Guard Officer in a United States port was called “Supervisor of Anchorages,” which was not an accurately descriptive title, as his duties had wider scope. On the other hand, neither is his present title accurate; for, as the Coast Guard “Captain of the Port,” he does not operate shipping in a port either in time of peace when he supervises inspection activities and commercial anchorages, or in time of war when he is the Marine Security Officer chiefly concerned with conducting harbor patrols and supervising handling of ammunition and other explosives. In either case the title “Captain of the Port” is a misleading misnomer, and it would eliminate frequent confusion if a more accurate designation, such as “Marine Security Officer,” could be substituted.
Further confusion in titles arises in the larger United States ports where the chief administrative officer of the Municipal Harbor Board assumes the title of Port Director. The Harbor Board, consisting usually of a president and commissioners, details the supervision and execution of its policies to this executive, who is assisted by the Harbor Engineer and by Wharfingers who assign dock space, operate the piers, and enforce rules and regulations applying to local port facilities and properties. He is also assisted by a local traffic manager who solicits cargo, gives traffic information, and investigates traffic rates. More accurate and descriptive titles for this chief civilian administrative officer would be “Port Manager” or “Port Superintendent,” which would differentiate between his office and functions and those of the Navy Port Director who actually “directs” Navy shipping.
The Port Director is also the Navy’s steamship agent, for he operates a booking office for Navy cargo and passengers. Any command having freight, a draft for overseas or for a coastwise destination may request transportation in naval vessels through the Office of the Port Director. The booking of passengers and freight through a centralized agency ensures that naval transportation, including Navy chartered-vessels, is utilized fully. Furthermore, it is more economical for separate commands to arrange for the loading and unloading of casual drafts through the Port Director, who has an organization to perform such duties and who ensures that the immigration, customs, agriculture, and public health requirements are met. Navy dependent travel is also handled through the Port Director Office, and it is understood that personnel booking officers have several tactful answers to that general and insistent question, “Oh, when can the children and I get passage to join my husband?”
The Tug Office is the nerve center of the Port Director’s harbor activities. From sunrise to sunset, the air there is charged with conversation requesting black oil, potable water, Diesel oil, make-up feed water, garbage and trash removal, or running boat services. The Tug Office functions around the clock, and Sundays or National Holidays are just additional working days in that activity.
In addition to the Army and Navy, there are several other Government agencies with the primary mission of effecting a proper defense of our country against invaders. One of the most important is the Federal and State Departments of Agriculture, who keep a sharp watch on planes and ships which might bring foreign bugs, beetles, flies, and other parasites to imperil the products of our soil.
The fruit fly is one of man’s greatest enemies for it attacks practically every type of fruit. Unfortunately, the climate and vegetation of our Hawaiian Islands, now only thirteen air hours from the West Coast, provides an ideal environment for the prodigious multiplying abilities of these destroyers. Not only has Hawaii had the Mediterranean fruit fly for years, but a more progressive devourer, the Dacus dorsalis, was introduced into that area during the war. This new comer is far more ruthless than other flies, even attacking green bananas, something no Mediterranean fruit fly would do. In its forays it will enter dwellings to search out soft, pulpy fruit or vegetables, and nothing will stop it except strict quarantine followed by stripping those parts of the world it inhabits of all vegetation, or else a miraculous insecticide not yet developed.
The war that was waged against the Mediterranean fruit fly in Florida is now classical horticultural history. It took three years, from 1929 to 1932, plus four and one- half millions of dollars and prodigious human efforts to repel that invader. A military quarantine was set up around the infested areas; and in the zone where the fly had already dug in, the countryside was stripped of every tomato, tangerine, bean, melon, grapefruit, orange, eggplant, pepper, and pea for a year. Everything that was food for fruit larvae was destroyed.
Difficult as it was to eradicate the fruit fly from Florida, it was not an impossible task because the growing season is not continuous. But if those insidious destructors ever get into California, where there are always either Valencia or Navel oranges ripening, or into Imperial Valley and other areas where vegetable crops are grown in every season, we would be cursed with a plague that could not be eradicated except by a waste equal to that made by atomic bombardments.
One of the missions of Port Directors is to cooperate with agricultural inspectors in their vital work by ensuring that ships do not bring infested fruits or vegetable products ashore. A larvae laden tomato tossed overboard in port, an avocado brought ashore, might be the beginning of the fruit fly scourge in our Pacific states. Port Directors must be particularly alert to ensure that a Navy ship, having overhauled at Pearl Harbor or having stopped at the Hawaiian Islands, does not later join the other ships of its West Coast Based Squadron at sea and subsequently enter port with them as an innocent unit free of flies and larvae.
It is customary for the agricultural inspectors to come aboard with the Port Director Boarding Officer. The Port Director Boarding Officer acts as a liaison between the naval service, the agricultural inspectors, and the customs officers. No personnel should be permitted to board or disembark until the Commanding Officer has been advised by the Boarding Officer that his ship is cleared in accordance with General Order No. 243. Agricultural inspectors have the power of stature to enforce their inspections, and all foreign grown fruits and vegetables (except pineapples and coconuts) must be disposed of before ships arrive in a continental United States port. The following is typical of the dispatch sent to ships entering a West Coast port from Hawaii:
Your attention invited to Navy General Order 243. Dispose of Hawaiian grown fruits and vegetables except pineapples and coconuts prior arrival. Dispose of mainland grown fruits and vegetables obtained from cold storage Hawaii except unopened cases, which must not be consumed in port. Make thorough plant inspection of ship, including passengers and baggage loaded in Hawaii. PD Boarding Officer will board with agriculture officers to clear ship immediately upon arrival. Allow no one to embark or disembark until cleared by PD Boarding Officer.
In order to ensure that fruit fly larvae do not get ashore in partly consumed food, California State law prohibits the landing of garbage from ships on California soil. This requires that Port Directors ensure that garbage is loaded directly from ships into garbage lighters and that the garbage is dumped at least twenty miles at sea. Because of the effectiveness of ships’ garbage grinders in pulverizing larvae, they may be operated in United States ports to dispose of garbage.
There are, of course, extracurricular activities in the Port Director’s work, such as placating yachtmen when Navy small craft pass close aboard, sopping up the oil that is always inadvertently spilled in the harbor, and keeping the water free of flotsam, particularly objects such as logs which are a menace to navigation.
Occasionally there are special requests, such as the one from a seaman who had been on fifteen days’ leave in the Middle-west and had fallen in love. He had to have ten days additional leave to complete his campaigning, so he called the Port Director Office in the port where his ship was anchored and requested that his Captain be contacted. And he urged the Port Director to use all the influence he could to get the leave extended. The long distance telephone conversation closed with “And, Sir, I’ll keep sitting right here in the telephone booth so you can phone me right back!”
And there are other unusual requests—like the case of the lost earrings. The Port Director, answering a long distance telephone call, insisted “Yes, but what has missing earrings to do with the operation of this port? “Nothing, Captain, but you are in the Navy and I know you can help me. Last night my wife, while dancing with a young Lieutenant, felt one of her earrings slipping off so she removed them and asked the officer to put them in his pocket for safe keeping. I can describe him and I think I know his first name. Would you please check to see if he is in your area? You see, those were diamond earrings!”
There are no “high-level” planners in the officers of Port Directors. If Forces Afloat are to be served adequately, officers and men assigned to Port Director duties soon realize that their work consists largely of careful attention to a multitude of details.
Port Directors are the “pick-and-shovel” men of the Navy whose sole mission is direct service to the Fleet. Their call, like the well- known refrain of a ship’s cook, is the familiar “Come and get it!