The war in Korea is three years old. The lives lost there in the struggle against Communism cannot be reclaimed. It is encouraging, however, to know that the lessons previously learned at great expense are being applied. The two World Wars showed the compelling necessity of allied naval cooperation. In Korean waters there is full cooperation and coordination among the navies of the United Nations.
Task Force 95 is designated as “The United Nations Blockading and Escort Force,” and It is a well integrated team composed of ships of many different nations. The British, Dutch, Canadian, Colombian, Australian, Thailand, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, and, of course, American navies, are all represented. That means quite an assortment of languages, many different customs, and a lot of different traditions. The close cooperation between the United Nations Navies in Task Force 95 is based on mutual understanding, respect, and admiration acquired as the result of almost three years together.
Joint sea operations are not new. In the First World War and particularly in the last War we operated in close liaison with other navies. That cooperation, though, was not on as formal or as close a basis as is now true in the Far East. For example, different navies have always had their own practices and systems for maneuvering in formation at sea. A parallel might be drawn to the different traffic laws that exist in most States of the United States and in different countries of the world. A sensible driver will always learn the local laws before he takes his car into strange territory. That will occasionally take time. Unfortunately, time may not be available if the not-so-cold war spreads. With the object of overcoming this problem United Nations navies now all use the same maneuvering instructions in Korean waters.
Communication at sea is an extremely vital factor if ships are to accomplish anything more constructive than salute each other as they pass at sea or in a harbor. Naturally, allied navies have always had their own systems of signaling, radio procedure, and cryptography. Just as it is discouraging to have the wrong person answer the telephone, so may it be disastrous to be unable to communicate satisfactorily with another allied ship simply because she happens to belong to a different navy. In the last war we solved the problem by using British systems when our ships operated under the Royal Navy command, and they used our systems when they were with us. We have now improved that solution in that all navies operating in Korean waters use the same system.
Early in the last war the Japanese overran the Dutch East Indies, and very nearly succeeded in establishing a foothold on Australia. The naval forces at their disposal when they launched their invasion were larger and more powerful than the defenders. What little prior planning there was had been accomplished furtively by allied officers in civilian clothes. Communication and operating procedures were not mutually understood. Had there been cooperation and understanding of the order now existing in Task Force 95 the resistance might have been greatly prolonged.
Although effective communications and standard procedures are of assistance, they are of real value only if backed up by mutual respect, consideration, appreciation, and a will to accomplish the job. This is probably due to the fact that there is something very personal about being shot at, or in being exposed to the risk of becoming a target. Consequently, morale demands the knowledge that supporting ships are both interested and capable of silencing an annoying enemy shore battery. An example in illustration of this occurred in November, 1951, when three of our rocket ships—LSMRs— were assigned as part of a group that was to make a demonstration at Hungnam on the east coast of Korea. Air strikes were to be coordinated with naval gunfire and rockets. The three LSMRs had only recently arrived in the Far East. The skipper of one had not been in Korea before and had only recently taken command of his ship. He had heard no loud noises since service on the carrier Franklin in 1945. In view of this, and since an LSMR is entirely without armor, he took even more interest in his associates who made up the “support element” than he would have normally. They turned out to be the British Cruiser Belfast, the Dutch Destroyer Van Galen, and 'the Australian Destroyer Tobruk. His thought at the time was that it would be nice to have a United States destroyer present if only for morale. It happened that there was no observed opposition and certainly no effective resistance. However, his United Nations friends accompanied him close to the beach in a most heart-warming fashion and waited for the Commies to show their heads. More experience in Korea taught him that it made no difference what particular flag flew from the gaff of the supporting ship. They were all good and they were all there when and where they were supposed to be.
To add to the close ties between the allied navies in the Far East there are two ships there that bear the same name and occasionally are in the same task unit. They are the U.S.S. Bataan, an American carrier, and the H.M.A.S. Bataan, an Australian destroyer. Both ships were built during the last war and saw considerable service. The Australian Bataan was christened by Mrs. Douglas MacArthur. Her commanding officer suffered a deep personal loss early this year when the Bataan took a hit from a shore battery on the Korean West Coast. The shell landed right outside the captain’s cabin and detonated. Fortunately no one was hurt. But after the action was over the skipper found that his cabin was riddled with shrapnel and that one of the pieces had neatly scissored off the tail of his blue uniform frock coat.
One of the reasons that the integration in Task Force 95 “works” is because staff and shipboard personnel are interested in making it work. The organization, to begin with, is simple. The U. S. Navy is responsible for the east coast of Korea, and the Royal Navy for the west coast. The Task Force commander at present is an American. The commander of the West Coast Group is a Rear Admiral of the British Royal Navy. Although British ships normally operate on the west coast and American ships on the east coast, there is a frequent exchange of ships between forces for mutual convenience and benefit. Consequently, all U.N. ships will have operated with most of the different nationalities by the time they complete their stint in Task Force 95.
Although all of the U.N. countries represented in Task Force 95 furnish their own logistic support, an individual ship will frequently need assistance which her own navy cannot supply either because of a shortage or because there does not happen to be a supply ship of that particular navy handy. One instance occurred last winter off the west coast when an Australian destroyer required a type of welding rods for urgent emergency engine repairs. It happened that an American ship had some which she was able to spare. Later the American ship needed some electrical varnish before it could bake the rotor of a rewound motor for the heating boiler. The weather, incidentally, was cold and the ship was chilly without heat. The Aussie came through with the varnish. That represents extremely close cooperation because there is no way of getting an engineman or an electrician to part with hard-to-get welding rods or varnish unless he really wants to help. The various medical services also assist in binding the force together. One American sailor aboard a small ship on the west coast had an infected leg which was approaching a critical state. He was taken over to the H.M.S. Ceylon where he was operated upon and remained for about a week to recover. He was glad to get back home, but brought with him an appreciation for the British doctor, the Royal Navy, and the old custom of toasting the King’s health. Many R.N. tars have received similar care from large American ships on the east coast—minus the “toast.”
To the sailor, mail delivery is probably the most important consideration if he is serving on a distant station. The ships maintaining the U.N. blockade and supplying interdiction fire in Korea operate in areas that would discourage the most enthusiastic real estate agent. They are frequently very isolated. Consequently, mail assumes a position of paramount importance. Delivery is accomplished by ships leaving Japan for a stretch “up the coast.” Much thought is given to mail delivery, and the last sacks are put aboard at the last minute before sailing. The service is good, and the deliveries average twice a week. One mail clerk got carried away by enthusiasm last spring. The mailman on the Dutch Destroyer Piet Hein (DD805) was surprised to find mail for the American Destroyer Chevalier (DD805) in his sack. Two DD805’s were evidently too much for the post office in Japan.
Space for passengers between the “coast” and Japan and between different points in Korea aboard U.N. ships is much in demand and always available. An American ship whose tour in Korea was about up sent its engineer officer back to Japan aboard the H.M.C.S. Cayuga as the advance agent for repair work. Similar advantage is taken of departures of U.N. ships by officers and men of all services who are detached from their units in Korea and headed for new duty.
All ships may use the U. S. Navy Movie Exchange in Japan. Unfortunately, subtitles in different languages are not available, but in many cases they would be superfluous. You need not understand the language to follow the adventures of Bugs Bunny!
All the problems concerned with operating a force of many navies will probably never be solved. There will always be room for an honest difference of opinion. The question as to who has the best navy is a case in point. In one lengthy and learned discussion, conducted in the captain’s cabin of British ship among Dutch, British, and American commanding officers, the interim decision was reached that the American navy had the best coffee, the English the best tea, and the Dutch the best cheese. This was a closed forum and not to be considered conclusive.