Saugatuck AO-75 - History

Saugatuck AO-75 - History

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(AO-75: dp. 5,782 (It.); 1. 523'6", b. 68', dr. 29'11"; s. 15 k., cpl. 251, a. 1 5" 4 3", 4 40mm., 12 20mm. cl. Suamico; T. T2-SE-Ai)

Saugatuck (AO-75) was laid down under Maritime Commission contract as Newton (MC hull 335) on 20 August 1942 by the Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Chester, Pa.; renamed Saugatuck on 16 September 1942, launched on 7 December 1942, sponsored by Mrs. A. MaeLachlan, delivered to the Navy on 21 December 1942; converted at the Bethlehem Steel Co., Key Highway Plant, Baltimore, Md.; and commissioned on 19 February 1943, Lt. Comdr. Ben Koerner, USNR, in command.

Following shakedown in Chesapeake Bay, Saugatuck departed Norfolk for the Netherlands West Indies and the Panama Canal. On 30 April, she transited the canal; and, the next day, headed for the South Pacific. Diverted en route, she was ordered first to Pearl Harbor, thence to San Pedro, Calif. During the summer and fall, she carried fuels and lubricants to Espiritu Santo and Funafuti. In December, she assumed duties as station oiler at Espiritu Santo. Late in January 1944, she put to sea to rendezvous with, and refuel fleet units engaged in the Marshalls' campaign; and, by 5 February, she had begun fueling ships in Majuro Lagoon.

A week later, Saugatuck returned to Funafuti to
receive more cargo. By June, she had completed three shuttle runs to Majuro: one from the Ellice Islands, one from California, and one from Hawaii. On 16 June she moved into the Marianas.

For two days, she refueled ships of the Saipan assault force, then, late in the afternoon of the 18th, the refueling area was attacked by Japanese aircraft. The oilers were the targets. Saugatuck underwent three attacks during which she was peppered by shrapnel and strafing bullets. She lost only one of her crew during the 15-minute engagement, and within the hour, resumed refueling operations.

On the 19th, the Battle of the Philippine Sea raged to the west. On the 20th, Saugatuck was detached from TU 16.7.5 and ordered back to the Marshalls. On the 25th and 26th, A TR-46 performed necessary repairs to her hull and equipment, and, into July, Saugatuck refueled ships at Eniwetok. On the 15th, she got underway back toward the Marianas. From the 18th to the 26th, she operated off Guam. On the 26th, she transferred her remnant cargo to Marias, and, on the 29th she returned to Eniwetok.

Three weeks later, Saugatuck moved further west and, at the end of August, she commenced operations out of Seeadler Harbor in the Admiralties. From that base, north of New Guinea, she supported the units engaged in the assault and occupation of the Palaus in September, and of Leyte in October. She then shifted her base to Ulithi, whence she sortied to refuel units of the fast carrier force as it struck Japanese installations and shipping in the Philippines, Indochina, Formosa, and Ryukyus during November and December; as it supported the Lingayen assault force in January 1945, and as it hit the Japanese home islands in February. In March, Saugatuck moved into the Volcano Islands where she fueled ships supporting Marine units fighting on Iwo Jima. In April, she got underway for the United States.

Saugatuck arrived at Los Angeles on the 22d underwent repairs and alterations there at the Bethlehem Steel Co. docks; and headed west again in late June. On 12 July, she returned to Ulithi and, after a run to Leyte, commenced carrying fuel to the Ryukyus. On 4 August, she arrived off Okinawa. On the 10th she moved into Buckner Bay and remained there until the day after the mid-August cessation of hostilities. She then commenced refueling operations in support of the minesweeping effort in the East China Sea the occupation of Japan, and the repatriation of Allied and Japanese prisoners of war.

On 8 November, the oiler headed back to the United States to await inactivation. She was decommissioned at San Francisco on 19 March 1946 and returned to the Maritime Commission the following October. Less than two years later, however, on 22 January 1948, she was reacquired by the Navy for operation by a civilian crew for the Naval Transportation Service.

Assigned to the Military Sea Transportation Service on its establishment in October 1949, she remained in the Pacific until early 1950 when she extended her range to the Caribbean and Atlantic. With the outbreak of war in Korea, the ship became primarily engaged in shuttling fuel from the west coast and the Persian Gulf to Japan and, in December 1950, to Korea.

The spring and summer of 1952 saw her operating in the Caribbean and along the east coast on a schedule which, after a run to Seattle in early fall, was continued into the spring of 1953. She then resumed operations in the Pacific. In 1955, she commenced a varied schedule under which she has carried petroleum products from the world's major oil ports to United States Naval bases and depots in both hemispheres. She continues in this service, into 1974, under the auspices of the Military Sealift Command.

Saugatuck earned seven battle stars for her World War II services.

History Center Exhibits

Historic Demerest Shanty
In partnership with Retro Boat Rentals
730 Water Street, Saugatuck
Exterior story panels and exhibits now open for walk up viewing interior exhibit accessible during business hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from early June through Labor Day, with more limited hours in September and October.

The 1940s fishing shanty structure is a rare survivor of Saugatuck's commercial fishing history. In 2020, the History Center engaged in a partnership with local business Retro Boat Rentals and the Harrington family--owners of the boat rental site--to restore the shanty and placed it on a waterfront site with public access. Today you may view an exhibit of interpretive story panels, photographs, fishing artifacts, and a video montage. The exhibit materials are placed inside and around the exterior of the shanty, now called Saugatuck’s Historic Demerest Shanty. Inside the shanty, the exhibit will share space with a fresh and smoked fish market to be run by Fish Lads Saugatuck.

The story of commercial fishing in Saugatuck-Douglas took place over 100 years. From the 1860s through the 1960s and into the early 1970s, commercial fishing operators employed hundreds of people and produced tons of fish for local and regional markets. This came to an end when invasive species, pollution, overfishing, and state regulations favoring recreational fishing all took their toll here and throughout the Great Lakes. The story is told by the Demerest Shanty exhibit, and in more detail in a book published by the History Center to coincide with the exhibit. The book, “Bounty & Bust: Commercial Fishing in Saugatuck-Douglas, 1860-1970,” is available for purchase at the Retro Boat Rentals boathouse as well as at the History Center’s two locations at 735 Park Street in Saugatuck and 130 Center Street in Douglas.


This section lists the names and designations that the ship had during its lifetime. The list is in chronological order.

    Suamico Class Fleet Oiler
    Keel Laid August 20 1942 as NEWTOWN
    Renamed September 16 1942 - Launched December 7 1942
    Acquired by U.S. Navy December 21 1942
    Converted for Naval service at Bethlehem Steel Co. Baltimore, MD

Naval Covers

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Summer Performances

At Saugatuck Center for the Arts

We’re serving up an exciting array of live performance outdoors at the SCA! Our new deck becomes a stage, and we’ll usher you to socially-distanced seating in our renovated & refreshed lot. Grab a drink from the bar then settle in for an evening with breezes off the river and sunset-streaked skies as you enjoy world-class entertainment!

It’s BYOC (Bring Your Own Chair) which is our way of helping you social distance as you enjoy the show. Our SCA team, in accordance with the local health department, has implemented a wide variety of safety measures to ensure a safe, comfortable outdoor entertainment experience. We look forward to seeing you outdoors at the SCA!

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A brief history of the Saugatuck dune controversy

SAUGATUCK TWP., MI -- The grassy dunes between the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan north of Saugatuck has been the site of activity since the early 1800s.

But within the past century, a land use dispute has kindled and continued to flare up as the private property has changed owners with deep pockets and big plans.

Read on through this basic timeline of the property's history.

The Singapore historical marker that stands in the city of Saugatuck. (File photo |

Lumber outpost of Singapore established by New York speculator Oshea Wilder on the north side of the Kalamazoo River at Lake Michigan.

Francis Stockbridge, later a U.S. Senator who helped build the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, buys one of the sawmills in Singapore. Singapore is developed into a hub of activity with two active mills, a harbor full of boats, a store and a bank which printed its own currency.

Wood from Singapore shipped out from the mill to help rebuild Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Travis Randolph's house that was built in the mid-1870s and moved from Singapore to Saugatuck. (File photo |

Singapore’s main mill moves to St. Ignace – a death knell for the town. Houses are moved into Saugatuck, and what remains is covered by shifting dune sands.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges a new channel for the Kalamazoo River, dividing the Singapore dunes into two properties with about 260 acres to the north and 160 acres to the south – bordering with what is now Oval Beach.

Chicago businessman David Bennett buys the property.

Bennett reveals offer to donate south section if it, combined with city-owned Oval Beach, became a state park. Offer is denied. He closes public access to his north property.

The Denisons built the Broward Marine yacht manufacturing facility in the dunes in Saugatuck Township. (File photo |

Property sold for $60,000 to yacht builder Franklin Denison and wife Gertrude. They eventually build a boat manufacturing facility on a flat area of the property, adjacent to a boat slip and steel sheet-pile seawall on the river. Yachts are manufactured here from approximately 1982 to 1991.

Franklin’s son, Ken Denison, builds large boat-shaped, shingled mansion with a guest house at the mouth of Kalamazoo River on Lake Michigan. The mansion was built just before the Michigan Dunes Protection Act was passed, allowing it to be closer to the lake than the law now permits.

A panoramic view looking south across the Kalamazoo River at the 160 acres of property now known as the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area that the city first attempted to purchase in 1996. (Amy Biolchini |

City of Saugatuck tries to buy southern 160 acres near Oval Beach deal with Denisons later falls apart.

A view of the northern dunes on the former Denison property, looking west to Lake Michigan May 4, 2017. The far tree line marks what is now the Saugatuck Dunes Natural Area. (Amy Biolchini |

State DNR seeks 420-acre Denison property to link Saugatuck Dunes State Park and Oval Beach. Franklin Denison wants land to be used for park, but family wrangling ends discussion.

The Denison house, as seen in 2013. (File photo |

Franklin Denison dies. The more than 400-acre Denison land becomes available for purchase and the negotiations on behalf of the public begin.

City and state pursue property, but legal issue with estate prevents purchase.

Stephen Neumer, project director for Aubrey McClendon for Singapore Dunes, talks in front of a feasibility study Monday at Sears Architects The idea behind Singapore Dunes is to re-create a community that is "ecologically sensitive and historically reverent," in the Saugatuck dunes area. (File photo |

Oklahoma billionaire Aubrey McClendon buys property for $39.5 million after consortium of local business leaders and conservation groups unable to make deal. Conservation groups hope to convince McClendon to sell area south of Kalamazoo River.

McClendon, who first spotted the property while riding his Ski-doo along Lake Michigan from St. Joseph, proposes a series of development proposals for the property, including a marina, golf course, stables and shooting range.

A purchase agreement has been reached with Aubrey McClendon to purchase the pristine duneland and Lake Michigan beach he owns for the proposed Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area. (File photo |

McClendon drops asking price for the land south of the Kalamazoo River by $1 million, to $19 million, to help Land Conservancy of West Michigan obtain the property.

The Land Conservancy closes the deal to purchase the property south of the Kalamazoo River -- what is now the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area.

McClendon, who has never lived in the Denison house, lists the house and 6 acres of property for sale for $10 million.

Though conservationists pull together donations and apply for a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, the property is no longer for sale.

McClendon took the property off the market after getting the government’s approval to build a road to 18 would-be home sites.

McClendon dies in a fiery crash in Oklahoma, one day after being indicted for rigging bids for oil and natural gas leases in Oklahoma.

McClendon’s entire property listed for sale for $40 million.

A map, courtesy of Cottage Home, that shows the 300-acre property purchased by North Shores of Saugatuck. The dotted line represents the access road. Seven homes are proposed for the "lake cluster" along Lake Michigan, eight homes are proposed for the "channel cluster" and 23 homes are proposed around a 1,500-foot-long boat basin in the "harbor cluster." There's also a potential for more home development in the area marked "river cluster," and for the commercially zoned "commercial cluster" to see development. The rest of the property will not be touched. (Courtesy | Cottage Home)

North Shores of Saugatuck, a limited liability company registered to Jeff Padnos, purchases the McClendon property except for the boat-shaped house and another private residence. The owners are working with Cottage Home, a Holland-based developer.

Developer Brian Bosgraaf uses his thumb to show the location of this blue-flagged stake on the plans for a new boat basin surrounded by 23 home sites in the Singapore Dunes. The stake, seen May 4, 2017, marks one of the banks of the proposed 1,500-boat basin. (Amy Biolchini |

Saugatuck Township’s planning commission gives approval April 26 for special land use for the boat basin – which was required only because the developer is proposing boat slips for users others than immediate residents. That approval is contingent on the developer gaining other permits that have to undergo more rigorous review.

The planning commission also approved the preliminary site condo and planned use development zoning requests that have a number of contingencies attached. The planning commission still has to give its approval to the final version of the site condo zoning request.

Plans filed show 23 home sites proposed around a 1,500-foot-long boat basin, seven homes fronting Lake Michigan and eight homes along the Kalamazoo River.

Hike the “Ball & Chain”

While you can see the Mount Baldhead radar tower from many parts of the beach, there’s nothing like climbing up to the top for a close-up view. The trail is open all year, but it’s even more of an adventure in summer with a little trip the locals call the Ball & Chain.

Crank the Chain

Start on the east side of the river in downtown Saugatuck and pay a dollar to board the Saugatuck Chain Ferry, the last working chain-driven ferry in the US. This hand-cranked boat crosses the Kalamazoo River on an underwater cable, providing a convenient shortcut to Mount Baldhead and other west-side attractions like the Saugatuck-Douglas History Museum and Oval Beach.

Climb to the Ball

Walk about .2 miles north from the ferry landing on Park Street, and look for the museum and the long wooden staircase to the peak. (Benches on the landings let you catch a breather if you need it. We won’t judge.) After climbing 300 steps to the top of Mount Baldhead, you’ll come face-to-face with the radar tower and peep over the trees to a enjoy a bird’s eye view of the harbor and town. If you’re up to it, follow the trail down the sand dune to cool off with a dip in the lake. Otherwise, take the stairs back down, wander through the museum, and have lunch after taking the ferry back across to downtown Saugatuck.

(Weather-permitting, the chain ferry runs all day from Memorial Day to Labor Day and costs $1/person each way.)


There have been excursion boats built and operated in the Saugatuck/Douglas area since the late 1860’s. The Kalamazoo River proved to be a tranquil river that was excellent for launching boats, and was easily accessible to Lake Michigan, as the mouth of the river was only one mile from Saugatuck.

The Queen of Saugatuck was built in a small machine shop called the “Shag Shop” about three miles east of Saugatuck. The Queen of Saugatuck’s original plans were purchased from Dick Hoffman, for his second boat, the Island Queen. The rough drawings were modified and updated to meet current US Coast Guard regulations. After an approved set of plans were received, construction began at the Shag Shop. It took approximately one year to finish welding the hull and fitting her out. She was trucked down Old Allegan Road to Saugatuck Marine, just off Blue Star Highway, where she was launched on July 7th, 1978. She was then towed by the tug R.B. Long, to her dock at 716 Water Street, where she was finished being outfitted and went through her Coast Guard inspections and stability testing.

The Queen of Saugatuck was 14 gross tons, 12 net tons, 57 feet long, 14 feet in beam, and 2.4 in depth, and held 82 passengers, plus a crew of two. She had a single paddlewheel at her stern. After being in service several years, the wheels were split to allow additional maneuverability of the vessel. In 1992, the vessel’s name was changed to Star of Saugatuck to incorporate the use of the family name. The Star was used until June of 2000, when Star of Saugatuck II went into service. In May of 2002 she was sold and trucked to Waco, Texas, and renamed Spirit of the Rivers. She sunk in 2008 but was salvaged. She has been renamed the Brazos Bear and is currently privately owned.

Star of Saugatuck II had been a work in process for many years. Desiring a larger boat with an enclosed lower deck to be more passenger friendly in inclement weather, plus the boat needed to be a sternwheeler numerous designs were looked at, to find just the right one. After a trip to New York to look at a sternwheeler, the right design was found that would be suitable for operating in the Saugatuck harbor.

A set of basic plans were purchased, and upon meeting Greg Beers and two of his colleagues, (Greg is currently the president of Bristol Harbor Group in Rhode Island) who were finishing their masters in marine architecture, took on the project of developing a set of blueprints and crunched all the numbers to submit to the Coast Guard for their approval. The plans came back with a few minor changes required the plans were sent off to Boston for review from John Gilbert and Associates. The required changes were made, the numbers verified again, and the plans were sent off to Coast Guard headquarters for approval. This process alone took just over 18 months to complete.

The Shag Shop, once again, was the boat builder. The first truck load of steel to arrive was 80,000 pounds. The Star II has just a little over 100,000 pounds of steel in her. On September 28th, 1998 the keel was laid for Star of Saugatuck II, and over the next 12 months she took shape and was assembled, then disassembled for launching.

On October 17th, 1999 she was trucked down Old Allegan Road, through the city of Saugatuck, and her hull launched at the Spear Street launch ramp, with approximately 100 people witnessing the launch. The hull was then towed over behind where the Red Dock sits today, where her paddlewheels were installed, and the main cabin and the pilot house put on the hull within the next 4 weeks. She was then towed back to her dock at 716 Water Street where the main cabin and pilot house were welded to the hull. Welding the main deck and pilot house to the hull was completed on New Year’s Day 2000.

The outfitting of the boat insulating the walls, putting in windows, canopy framework, bathrooms, and everything else that needed to be done continued through the rest of the winter. It was hoped that the Star II would be ready for the opening of the 2000 season, but it wasn’t until June 23rd, 2000 that she received US Coast Guard certification.

The Star II seats 150 passengers and crew of 3 – one captain and one crew for cruises with 54 or less passengers and one captain and two crew for cruises over 55 passengers. She weighs in at 51 gross tons, 41 net tons, length 64 feet + 11 feet of paddlewheel for an overall length of 80 feet she has a 21 foot beam, and draws about 3 feet of water. Her enclosed lower deck seats 70 passengers, and has banquet style tables seating 6’s and 8’s, and cloth, padded chairs for seating. The upper deck seats 80 passengers, and has a partial canopy over the 2/3 of the deck. The seating on the upper deck is patio type furniture and table seating of 4 and 6. On the lower deck you will find two spacious restrooms. The men’s restroom also serves and a unisex handicap restroom.

Both Star’s are authentic sternwheeler paddleboats. The cruise begins at our dock at 716 Water Street, where you’ll travel upwards on the Kalamazoo River into Lake Kalamazoo (how far we go into the lake depends on water levels) where you’ll see the picturesque town of Saugatuck by water, back down the river, where you’ll see boats of all shapes and sizes, cottages to million dollars homes, the natural beauty of the area, untouched by development, and entering majestic Lake Michigan, (we enter Lake Michigan with permitting conditions), and then returning back to our dock. Trips take approximately 1¼ to 1½ hours, and there is a live narration which points out local landmarks, points of interest, as well as some history and local lore of the area.

The T2 Tanker Page

S.S. Huntington Hills, Marinship hull number 86, completed in 33 days.

September 2001 Update

My apologies to all who have sent me email since late July. I am still on active duty in the U.S. Navy, and just transfered from Sasebo, Japan back to Newport, RI. I will try to reply to all email I have collected since my departure now that I am more or less settled again.

Crew Lists

Drawings and Plans


I will continue to try to add to this page and others that accompany it, listing the ships and their builders. Please feel to contact me, giving your suggestions, sea stories, and comments. I also will continue to try to answer requests for information on ships you or others served on, based on my limited resources. Since, as I mentioned before, I do this in my spare time, please be patient in waiting for a response. I will endeavor to eventually respond to all who write. Email me at [email protected] in Newport, RI.

List of T2-SE-A1 Tankers still in active service, Aug 2000

As a lifelong student of maritime and naval history, I became interested in some ships of our merchant fleet. My father was a Merchant Mariner, sailing as an engineer in several vessels before, during, and after World War II. Included in the list of ships he sailed in were seven T2 tankers. After a small amount of research, I found that there are no T2 tankers preserved as museum ships as there are Liberty ships and Victory ships.

Following World War II, there wasn't much need for the Liberty and Victory hulls, as there were already bigger and better cargo ships plying the trade more efficiently. But on the other hand, we had developed a profound thirst for petroleum products. Automobiles were being produced for the public again. Air travel had become a standard. All this required gasoline, diesel, and lubricating oils. We had to have a way of getting it here, and to the rest of the world. To meet that end, the Maritime Commission, after much lobbying by the petroleum and shipping industries, allowed the sale of the T2 tankers it had built for the war.

(Click on the Builder's name to see a list of ships built by that yard.)

Type Builder 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 Total Remarks
T2 Bethlehem-Sparrows Point 2 4

T2-A Sun SB & DD Co

T2-SE-A1 Alabama DD & SB Co

24 44 34 102 Last 5 cancelled in May 1945
T2-SE-A1 Kaiser Co Inc, Swan Island
1 43 64 39 147 11 cancelled in August 1945, including 5 transferred from Marinship
T2-SE-A1 Marinship Corp

12 22 34 7 cancelled, of which 2 were half complete
T2-SE-A1 Sun SB & DD Co
21 61 69 47 198 14 cancelled
T2-SE-A2 Marinship Corp

5 23 3 31
T2-SE-A2 Marinship Corp

9 3 12 Navy Oilers
T2-SE-A3 Marinship Corp

1 1 Navy Oiler

The General T2 Type Tanker

The T2 tanker design was first adapted from S.S. Mobilfuel and S.S. Mobilube, built for the Socony-Vacuum Company (later to become Mobile Oil). They were 501 feet six inches long overall, with a beam of 68 feet. They were rated at 9,900 tons gross, and a deadweight tonnage of 15,850 tons. They displaced about 21,100 tons. Six of these ships were built by Bethlehem-Sparrows Point Shipyard in Maryland.

The T2-A type tanker was another variety of the T2 design. These 5 ships were built by Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Chester, PA for the Keystone Tankship Corporation and its affiliates in 1940. The Navy took them over before construction was complete in 1942 to use as Navy oilers. They were 526 feet long, 68 feet abeam, rated at 10,600 tons gross and a deadweight tonnage of 16,300. They displaced about 22,445 tons. Propulsion was provided by geared steam turbines driving a single propeller at 12,000 shaft horsepower, giving a maximum rated speed of 16 and a half knots.

The T2-SE-A1 Type

The most common variety of the T-2 style tanker was the United States Maritime Commission type T2-SE-A1, a commercial design already being built by Sun Shipbuilding Company for Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. There were 481 of these built between 1942 and 1945. Propulsion was provided by a turbo-electric drive. This consisted of a steam turbine generator connected to a propulsion motor to turn the propeller, thus obviating the need for a large main reduction gear, which would have taken quite a lot of time and machinery to produce, machinery that was already busy making these gear sets for naval vessels. These ships were built by Alabama Drydock & Shipbuilding Company of Mobile, Alabama, the Kaiser Company's Swan Island Yard at Portland, Oregon, the Marinship Corporation at Sausalito, California and the Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Company of Chester, Pennsylvania in extremely short production times. The average production time from laying of the keel to completion for sea trials was about 70 days, including 55 in the building ways and another 15 in the fitting out dock. The record was held by Marinship Corporation, completing S.S. Huntington Hills in just 33 days 28 days on the way and 5 days of fitting out!

These ships were 523 feet 6 inches long, 68 feet abeam and carried a gross rated tonnage of 10,448. Deadweight tonnage was 16,613 and they displaced about 21,880 tons. The turbo-electric propulsion system delivered 6,000 shaft horsepower, with a maximum power of 7,240 horsepower giving a top rated speed of about 15 knots with a cruising range of about 12,600 miles. (The A2 and A3 versions of the T2 had 10,000 SHP propulsion machinery, developing a top speed of 16 knots.) The propulsion machinery was produced by the General Electric Company, Lynn MA the Elliott Company, Jeanette, PA and the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company of Pittsburgh, PA.

The T2-SE tankers were not the first to have turbo-electric propulsion, nor was it a novel innovation. During World War I there were several commercial ships and some naval vessels propelled by turbo-electric plants. In 1938, some tankers built for the Atlantic Refining Company of Philadelphia, PA by Sun Shipbuilding Company were given turbo-electric plants. S.S. J. W. Van Dyke and S.S. Robert H. Colley had General Electric equipment giving them 6,040 SHP and a top speed of about 13.5 knots. Atlantic Refining had five more of this type of ship built.

The T2-SE-A1 had 9 sets of tanks. Tanks 2 through 9 had a main center tank carrying 391,500 gallons, and two side tanks (one port, one starboard) carrying about 165,000 gallons each. Tank number one consisted of only two side by side tanks, divided by a common bulkhead, as this tank set was only 13 feet 6 inches long. Tank sets 2 through 9 were 36 feet 6 inches long. Total cargo was about 5,930,000 gallons, about 141,200 barrels. There was also a small dry cargo space of about 15,200 cubic feet located forward of Tank Number 1 above the deep tank for a very small amount of dry cargo. There were two pumprooms, one forward and one aft. The main pumproom was aft, and contained six pumps. There were three large capacity pumps of 2,000 gallons per minute which were driven by electric motors located in an adjacent machinery space. There were also two 400 GPM pumps and one 700 GPM pump. In the forward pumproom was one 700 GPM pump and and 300 GPM pump which were reciprocating pumps used for fuel transfer and stripping.

A Few Other Interesting Links


Victory Ships and Tankers: The History of the "Victory" type cargo ships and of the Tankers built in the United States of America during World War II, by Leonard Arthur Sawyer and W. H. Mitchell. Published by Cornell Maritime Press, Cambridge MD.

Merchant Ships: A Pictorial Study, by John H. LaDage. Published by Cornell Maritime Press, Cambridge, MD, 1955.

Ships of the Esso Fleet in World War II, Standard Oil Company, 1946

USS Saugatuck (AO 75)

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Prior to July 1941, the logistic needs of the U.S. Fleet, renamed the Pacific Fleet after its move to Hawaii, was supplied by the Base Force. This command was responsible for providing fuel, food, ammunition, and provisions. The Base Force also provided the fleet with ancillary services, encompassing such mundane tasks as arranging for its water supply, taking care of garbage disposal, and running the shore patrol. To provide these services, a variety of auxiliaries comprised of oilers, fresh- and frozen-provision ships, repair ships, fleet tugs, and a variety of small craft, from target ships to garbage scows, were assigned to this force. Excluded were the specialized tenders--repair ships, destroyer tenders, seaplane tenders, submarine tenders--consigned to the various type commands. 1 As a major element of the fleet, the Base Force was commanded by a rear admiral who was responsible for the operation and administration of all vessels and personnel assigned to his command.

In the spring of 1941, discussions were held concerning the growing needs of the rapidly expanding Pacific Fleet and the possible reorganization of the Base Force, then headquartered aboard the Argonne (AG-3) with the fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The chief of naval operations, Adm. Harold Stark, recommended that the Base Force be divided into four separate squadrons: (1) troop transport (2) units primarily concerned with harbor, towing, and auxiliary services (3) units engaged in transportation of bulk cargoes and (4) units for offensive and defensive mine operations. 2 Under the new arrangement, the Train would be divided into four service squadrons: Squadron 2--Harbor services Squadron 4--Transport of personnel and landing force equipment Squadron 6--Offensive and defensive mining and Squadron 8--Transport of bulk fuel. The major task of the Base Force, and of Squadron 8 in particular, would still be to furnish logistic support to the main elements of the Pacific Fleet then based at Pearl Harbor.

When Squadron 8 (Base Force) was officially established in July 1941, it included oilers, ammunition ships, store ships, and provision

ships, which were essential for the mission of supplying the Pacific Fleet with fuel, ammunition, provisions, clothing, small stores, and ship's stores. By August the squadron had a total of eighteen ships assigned including the following vessels: Stores issue ships--Antares (AKS-3), Castor (AKS-1), Ammunition ships--Pyro (AE-1), Provision ships--Bridge (AF-1), Arctic (AF-7), Boreas (AF-9), and Aldebaran (AF-10), Oilers--Kanawha (AO-1), Cuyama (AO-3), Brazos (AO-4), Neches (AO-5), Ramapo (AO-12), Sepulga (AO-20), Tippecanoe (AO-21), Neosho (AO-23), Platte (AO-24), Sabine (AO-25), and Kaskaskia (AO-27). 3

Early Operations

During the first six months of the war, the activities of the Base Force, renamed the Service Force in March, were limited to supporting the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. No aid was given west of the Hawaiian Islands, leaving the old Asiatic Fleet in the Southwest Pacific to fend for itself (fuel for these ships was provided by the fleet oilers Pecos, Tippecanoe--assigned to the Asiatic Fleet, not the Base Force--and the Standard Oil tanker George G. Henry). With the exception of the delaying actions in the Philippines and the Battle of the Java Sea, the activities of the U.S. Navy during this period were limited to local patrols and hit-and-run raids on some of the Japanese-held islands, primarily in the Marshall and Gilbert groups. Except for fueling-at-sea by fleet oilers, the raiders depended on the facilities at Pearl Harbor for their logistic needs, returning to base after each mission.

The accomplishments of the fleet oilers supporting these missions should not be underestimated, however, since these important raids could not have been undertaken without the improved techniques for underway refueling developed by the Base Force during the prewar months. Fleet oilers, primarily those of the new Cimarron class, accompanied every major task force during this period and were instrumental in proving the concept of underway replenishment as a means of extending the combat range of the fleet (see table 17).

The first of these raids, Rear Adm. Frank J. Fletcher's abortive attempt to relieve Wake Island with Task Force 14, serves to illustrate the importance of accompanying oilers and the problems of fueling under way. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief, Pacific Fleet, assigned Fletcher to deliver reinforcements to Wake Island, attacked on 11 December. Fletcher, then commander of Cruiser Division 6, was "one of the senior cruiser commanders in the Pacific Fleet, deemed able and ready to command a task force on an independent mission." 4 Task Force 14 was formed around the heavy cruisers Minneapolis (CA-36), Astoria (CA-34), and San Francisco (CA-3), the Saratoga (CV-3), and the eight destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 4. To relieve the Wake garrison, a Marine fighting squadron was embarked on board the Saratoga and

Early Operations Involving Fleet Oilers
Task Force(s) Oiler(s)[1] Action Strike Date
TF-14 Saratoga Neches Relief of Wake Canceled because of fueling problems
TF-11 Lexington Neches[2] Strike on Wake Canceled, Neches sunk by submarine
Strikes on the Marshalls and Gilberts 1-2 February 1942
TF-16 Enterprise Sabine Bombardment of Wake 2-4 February 1942
Strikes on Salamaua and on Lae on the New Guinea coast 10 March 1942
Tokyo raid 16 April 1942
Battle of the Coral Sea 7-8 May 1942


Battle of Midway 6-7 June 1942
[1] With the exception of Tippecanoe and Neches, both of which were built in 1920, all of these oilers were of the new (18-knot) Cimarron class.
[2] Ships sunk by enemy action.

the seaplane tender Tangier (AV-8) was loaded with troops and supplies. The fleet oiler Neches (AO-5) accompanied the force to provide fuel for the short-legged destroyers. 5

Although the round-trip voyage from Pearl Harbor to Wake Island was well within the cruising range of the destroyers, they would have had virtually no reserves for battle. They would need to take on oil en route to insure sufficient fuel for engaging the enemy. 6 Ordered to "fuel at [his] discretion," Fletcher decided to wait until he was just outside the air-search range of the enemy forces attacking Wake before refueling. By the evening of 21 December, the task force was closing to within 600 miles of Wake, close enough to the battle zone to begin topping off the accompanying destroyers on the next day. Unfortunately for Fletcher's reputation, the ensuing operation was hampered by moderate winds and a long cross-swell that made fueling extremely difficult. "Several towlines parted, seven oil hoses were ruptured, and only four destroyers were filled during a ten-hour fueling period." The force was still 425 miles from Wake on the morning of 23 December, yet four of the destroyers still had to be fueled. By then it was too late to save the island and Fletcher's force was recalled. 7

There is no question the task force's speed of advance was greatly hindered by the slow steaming speed of the Neches (she could make no more than 12 3 /4 knots) and the two days it took to refuel the destroyers' accompanying escorts (see table 17). Because of these delays

Fletcher was unjustly blamed by some naval officers for the failure to relieve Wake. After the war, the esteemed naval historian Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison went so far as to suggest that Fletcher should have elected to make a 20-knot run in without the destroyers commencing at 2000 on 21 December. Had this been done, Saratoga's planes might have surprised the Japanese forces on 23 December. 8 This marvelous example of Monday morning quarterbacking takes into account neither Fletcher's orders (presumably to land reinforcements and deliver the marine fighters) nor the prevailing doctrine within the fleet with regard to the operational use of carriers, which stressed their scouting (they were the "eyes of the fleet") and defensive capabilities. Admiral Fletcher flew his flag from the heavy cruiser Astoria throughout the operation and was known to leave the carrier behind when the latter swung into the wind to launch or recover aircraft. 9 From these actions, it is clear that he did not consider the Saratoga's air group his most important asset. Like most of his contemporaries in the navy at the start of World War II, Fletcher had not worked closely with a carrier force before December 1941 and thus was not familiar with the potential striking power of aircraft. It is probable that Fletcher hoped to engage the enemy in a surface action consistent with fleet war plans prepared in July. 10 If such an action materialized, Fletcher would have been in dire need of his destroyers and it is most unlikely that he would have left them behind under any circumstances. 11

It is interesting to speculate about the outcome had Fletcher reached Wake before 23 December. The Saratoga, with an inexperienced air group on board and outnumbered two-to-one, would have been hard pressed to give a good account of herself. Had she engaged the enemy, it is likely that the results would not have been favorable to the U.S. Navy. Fletcher's inability to close Wake Island was a blessing in disguise, since the loss of the Saratoga at this early stage of the conflict could have had disastrous consequences. 12

The refueling problems encountered by the Wake task force during its abortive effort to relieve the beleaguered island are understandable. Although fueling exercises were routinely included in the prewar war games, they were rarely, if ever, attempted in anything but a calm sea. Not all oilers participated in these exercises either, and there is no evidence to suggest that Neches's crew was particularly proficient in the techniques needed to fuel ships while under way. Although her fueling gear was probably marginal, the frequent parting of fuel lines does not appear to have caused undue delay. In all likelihood, Neches's fueling rig was unable to support the extra lengths of hose needed to span the raging waters that gapped between ships attempting to fuel in rough seas. The Kaskaskia had experienced a similar problem during her first practice exercises conducted off Johnston Island earlier in the year. 13 Larger kingposts and/or better placement would have

permitted more hose to be suspended between fueling ships thereby providing a greater margin of safety during marginal conditions. It appears that this deficiency in the fueling-at-sea gear installed on the new oilers was quickly identified and soon remedied by enlarging kingposts on these ships so that they could handle larger booms. 14

Neches's inability to exceed 12 3 /4 knots was an inescapable liability, which surely contributed to the twenty-two-year-old oiler's demise on 23 January 1942 when she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Neches was sunk while steaming in company with the Lexington task group en route to Wake for what was to have been the first scheduled carrier raid in the Pacific. The raid had to be canceled after the loss of the Neches "as the force could not proceed without fueling at sea and Cincpac had no other tanker to spare." 15 Though oilers continued to be scarce, Nimitz would make sure that at least one of the new Cimarrons was available to accompany all future raids.

The important capabilities of the fast, highly maneuverable 25,000-ton, T3 oilers was not long in coming. One week after the Neches sinking, the Platte fueled the entire Enterprise (TF-11) task group during a marathon dawn to dusk operation in preparation for the high-speed run-in for the planned attack on Kwajalein and Roi in the Marshalls. Developed during the fleet problems of the 1930s, the highspeed run-in was a tactic devised by carrier forces for attacking enemy air bases. Carriers were considered highly vulnerable to attack from land-based aircraft so it was deemed necessary to launch a surprise raid on the enemy's base before the carrier's presence became known. This could only be achieved by approaching the target under cover of darkness so that the carrier would arrive at the scheduled launching point just before first light, allowing for a dawn attack on the enemy's airbase to catch his planes on the ground. Similar tactics were employed by the Japanese on their highly successful attack on Pearl Harbor.

Fueling at Sea during Fletcher's Abortive Attempt to Relieve Wake

Date Name Came
22 Dec 41 Bagley DD-386 0710 0805 0916 800
Ralph Talbot DD-114 1105 1121 1159 830
Henley DD-391 1323 1357 1438 715
Hammann DD-393 1521 1549 1701 1,325
23 Dec 41 Selfridge DD-357 0645 0714 0911 1,430
Mugford DD-389 0945 0952 1137 1,071
Patterson DD-392 1207 1225 1402 1,060
Blue DD-387 1532 1553 1718 1,319
SOURCE : Data extracted from Neches deck log.
Cimarron(AO-22), wearing Measure 32 camouflage in February 1942. Bound for the Pacific, she was destined to provide logistic support for the carrier task forces taking part in the Tokyo Raid. Note the longer fueling booms fitted to stations three and four and their effectiveness in rough seas. (National Archives)

An eight- to ten-hour run-in at 25 to 30 knots was generally required to meet these objectives, and could be easily accomplished by the ships in the task force provided the carrier and her escorts had sufficient fuel reserves needed for the high-speed sprint to the target, any ensuing action that might develop, and the high-speed withdrawal. In preparation for the task, the entire Lexington group beginning with the escorts commenced refueling in the early morning hours on 28 January. At dawn, the first of the escorts approached the oiler to take on fuel urgently needed to fill her nearly depleted bunkers. In preparation for this task, Platte's crew spent the predawn hours rigging the specialized gear that would soon be called upon to transfer thousands of tons of "navy special" fuel oil carried by the big ship (when fully loaded the Platte displaced almost as much as the Enterprise). As each ship came alongside in an unending progression that would last well into the night, a heaving line would be passed to the approaching ship followed in rapid succession by messengers, hawsers, a telephone line, and finally the fuel hoses that had to be secured before the pumps could be started.

It was dark by the time the Enterprise came alongside for her turn. No heavy ship had ever been fueled in the open sea at night, but the carrier had to have oil for the fast run-in. Smoothly and steadily, Capt. George Murry eased the carrier toward the Platte to a position close abreast "as if it were a summer noon in Long Island sound." The seamen and engineers did the rest. Below decks the "oil king" and his helpers on both ships directed the flow of

Sabine(AO-25), with three hoses deployed, refuelsEnterprise (CV-6) during the approach phase of the Tokyo Raid. (National Archives)

oil from one tank to another as the two ships steamed side-by-side for five and a half hours. 16 As the gap between the two vessels widened and contracted the topside crew tended the lines and hoses making sure that none parted, though ironically, other men stood by with axes to cut everything away in the event of enemy attack or other emergency. 17

Replenishing Enterprise's depleted bunkers or for that matter any large ship while under way at sea was, as it continues to be today, an exacting task that demands superb seamanship. The dynamic forces involved when a 30,000-ton (or larger) aircraft carrier and a 25,000-ton oiler are maneuvering at 8 to 12 knots within 50 feet of each other are difficult to comprehend or image. Yet the two vessels had to steam at identical speeds within 20 to 70 feet of one another for hours while a trickle of black oil flowed through 6-inch rubber fuel hoses suspended from saddles rigged to booms projecting over the oiler's side. Quick, skilled hands and precise judgment were necessary to keep the two ships separated. It may have looked easy, but it

Wartime experience with fueling alongside during the first six months of World War II led to improvement in fueling gear carried by oilers. Changes made to Sabine while undergoing refit at Mare Island Navy Yard in July 1941 were typical of those made to other oilers and included installation of electric winches, addition of a raised cargo deck, and extension of kingposts. The need for more AA defense was addressed by adding more 20 mms (note circled gun platforms indicating changes). (National Archives)

wasn't, and although collisions did not occur often, they could have disastrous effects. On one occasion, Kaskaskia lost every one of her portside booms and had to put into Pearl for emergency repairs after being sideswiped by the Yorktown. 18

The Loss of Neosho

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor at 0755 on 7 December 1941, the Neosho, second of the Cimarron-class oilers to be launched and the only one of her class in the Pacific, was tied to the fueling dock on Ford Island having just finished unloading a full cargo of high-octane aviation gasoline. No one knows for sure, but her small 3-inch,

Neosho(AO-23) backs away from the Ford Island loading dock during the air raid on Pearl Harbor. (National Archives)

23-caliber deck guns may have been the first to open fire that fateful morning. It took 30 minutes to raise enough steam before Capt. John Phillips could clear the berth, ordering the mooring lines cut with fire axes. Backing away slowly, she cleared the dead Oklahoma, passing the Tennessee and the West Virginia, and came close enough to the Arizona to feel the heat of the flaming funeral pyre consuming the stricken ship. With the engine-room telegraph ringing "Full ahead," the big gray oiler threaded her way through the channel. Twisting and dodging but never slowing down, Captain Phillips reached Merry Point and brought up there without having lost a man or a bit of paint--an act of seamanship under fire that earned him the Navy Cross. 19 For the next five months, she fueled fighting ships all over the Pacific--the Lexington (CV-2), Astoria (CA-34), Hammann (DD-412), Hammann (DD-393), Sims (DD-409), and Yorktown (CV-5)--filling their bunkers with black oil from Neosho's cargo holds. There was a short breathing space when she hurried off to the United States for better armament taking on one new 5-inch 38, three 3-inch 50s, and eight 20 mms before hurrying back to duty.

Her journeys to the islands and back to sea with fuel were tense junkets. Often she made them alone, for an escort could not be spared to protect an oiler then alone. She waddled about on the fringes of disaster, doing her wet-nurse's tasks and taking the kidding of men who lined the rails of the real fighting ships and called her their "Fat Girl," their "floating gas station." 20

On 1 May 1942, the Neosho met the two carrier task groups that had come together under Fletcher's tactical command at a point some 250 miles southwest of Espiritu Santo in the Coral Sea and immediately commenced fueling the Yorktown group, TF 17. Fueling continued through 3 May with Fletcher topping off his destroyers during the daylight hours. At 1900, Fletcher received a report from MacArthur that "gave him a hot foot." Allied planes had sighted Japanese transports debarking troops off Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. This startling news brought an immediate change in Fletcher's plans and he turned north to strike with the one carrier available (refueling the Lexington group had taken longer than expected and she had been left behind the previous evening 21 ). The Neosho was ordered to peel off and proceed in company with the destroyer Russell (DD-414) to Point "C ORN ." The oiler was directed to pass through this position one hour after sunrise on even days and Point "R YE " 120 nautical miles further east on odd days. 22

Fletcher's planes hit Tulagi early the next morning. After recovering her aircraft, the Yorktown headed south, arriving at the scheduled rendezvous point at 0816 where she met the Lexington and the Neosho. Admiral Fletcher spent the rest of the day refueling from the oiler, which had become an invaluable asset. The Neosho accompanied the Yorktown task force group until the evening of 6 May when she was once again detached, this time with Sims (DD-409) in escort.

Proceeding south, the two ships arrived at the next designated fueling point before daylight. The Sims was patrolling about a mile ahead of Neosho shortly after 0900 when a single plane appeared and dropped a bomb nearby. Both ships went to General Quarters. Half an hour later, the first of two waves of horizontal bombers attacked the two ships without achieving any hits. At noon, dive bombers from the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Suikaku arrived overhead. The Sims went to flank speed and turned left to take position on the Neosho's port quarter as the lead plane peeled off and plummeted down aiming for the big oiler. The stark terror of the attack that followed and its aftermath was later described in the Saturday Evening Post:

The dives were not steep, but long, holding on until four and five hundred feet before releasing. From below, the 20-mms spat and sprayed. The 3-inch 50s barked. The sea around the two ships was

Neosho refuels Yorktown (CV-5) just prior to the Battle of the Coral Sea. Note the difficulty the crew was having while trying to work in the heavy seas smashing over the well deck (one seaman in the center has even fallen down). Problems such as these led to the universal adoption of the elevated cargo spar decks for winches and other handling gear. (National Archives)

crowded with noise and terror and death. The Sims was hit amidships almost at once. She exploded, shot up a tremendous cloud of flame and steam, and then, broken in two, quickly sank. . . .

The Neosho's first hit was a demolition bomb on the starboard side. Its fragments shrieked up at the bridge. A machine gunner there was decapitated through his helmet and a battlephone operator was also killed. Captain Phillips standing close, had their blood washed off his face by the water blown inboard by the explosion. . . .

A dive bomber aiming at the port quarter was met coming in by the stern 20 mm at 600 feet. It set him ablaze and killed his engine.

He came on in a glide, losing altitude and streaming fire like a thrown torch. The ship was turning and the Nip pilot, turning with her, could be seen sitting in a solid cockpit of flame trying to die for Japan. If the Neosho had more knots in her screws, he would have landed in the wake and failed. Instead, he floated against the No. 4 gun station on the stack deck. The plane exploded in a blazing floor. The pilot's body, hurtling free, struck the No. 4 gun, then slumped down against its base like a flung mudpie. 23

Chaos reigned aboard the Neosho. The after deck was untenable. Men with clothes and life preservers burning, cut off by flames, hurled themselves into the sea. Below decks, damage-control parties worked desperately to save their ship.

Forty-two-year-old Chief Water Tender Oscar V. Petersen was in charge of one such party. They were waiting in the crew's mess when a 500-pound bomb exploded in the fireroom. The force of the blast demolished the bulkhead separating his party from the fireroom injuring all his men, knocking him down, and burning his face and hands. Petersen worked his way into the fireroom to shut off the four main steam valves, his job in the event of battle damage. He lay there with his head pillowed in his arms until the steam in the compartment had dissipated enough that he could reach the valves without dying on the way. He went in and closed the valves, then worked himself out of the compartment. When he reached the open air, the skin on his hands, not waiting to blister, sloughed off at once, "like the leather in the fingers of a half-pulled-on suede glove." He died six days later, though his heroic action earned him the Medal of Honor (posthumously).

The ship took seven hits before the attackers departed. Without power and nearly gutted throughout, the Neosho "looked more like a smoldering volcanic reef than a ship." For four days she drifted westerly with the trade winds while her crew tried frantically to keep her afloat. The destroyer Henley (DD-391) arrived on the afternoon of 11 May to rescue the 123 survivors still on board, then scuttled the "Fat Lady" ending her short, but glorious career.

The Emergence of the At-Sea Fueling Group

From the summer of 1942 to the summer of 1943, the South Pacific was the most active theater of operations in the Pacific. Because of the great distances involved, ships operating there were supplied from a number of advance bases that had been rapidly constructed and stockpiled with all sorts of supplies needed by both combatants and auxiliaries. Supply lines for this area of operations ran directly from the West Coast to bases in Samoa, the Fijis, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. Advance bases were also established at Segond Channel in Espiritu Santo and at Tulagi, once the Solomons had been taken. A number of supply ships, tankers, and provision and store ships,

  1. The general functions of Service Squadron 8 are the supply, transportation, and distribution of fuel oil, diesel oil, lubricating oils, gasoline, provisions, general stores, and ammunition to the fleet.

  2. All Service Force oilers, provision ships, stores issue ships, and ammunition ships are assigned to Service Squadron 8. Chartered tankers and chartered provision ships are also assigned to the squadron, and, at Pearl Harbor, self-propelled barges and small craft are included for the delivery to ships of fuels, provisions, and stores.

  3. Commander Service Squadron 8 is directly responsible for the administration and operation of the Squadron to best meet the logistic requirements of the Fleet and bases and to comply with directives of the commander, Service Force.

  4. Requests by ships at Pearl Harbor for fuels, provisions, stores, and water will be made direct to commander Service Squadron 8, except where otherwise directed by current instructions. 24

The Gilberts (Operation G ALVANIC ), November-December 1943

The first large-scale amphibious operation planned by the navy in the Pacific was the invasion of Tarawa atoll in the Gilbert Islands. 27 During the planning stages for this operation, code-named G ALVANIC , it was anticipated that large numbers of the fleet would be required to remain at sea within the forward operations area for extended periods of time. Pearl Harbor, which had previously served as the main naval base for the Pacific Fleet, was considered too far from Tarawa (over 2,100 nautical miles) to support the massive advance planned for the fleet.

Further evidence of the difficulties experienced by oiler crews as they attempted to conduct fueling operations in heavy seas. Here, Kaskaskia (AO-27) with "white water" on the well deck refuels Enterprise (CV-6) on 18 August 1942. (National Archives)

Although some advance bases had been established in the South Pacific, the nearest to the invasion beaches, Espiritu Santo, was still over a thousand miles away. To eliminate the time-consuming need to return to base for fuel, a round-trip of at least five days at 15 knots, it was decided to refuel all major elements of the invasion fleet at sea. Thus the Gilberts became the first operation in history in which an entire fleet was refueled at sea, eliminating the need for warships to leave the combat area for fuel.

The logistics of providing fuel for the two hundred combatants in the Gilberts operation was handled by Service Squadron 8 under the command of Captain Gray, headquartered at Pearl Harbor. While plans were being developed for the operation, it was decided that the fuel tanks of all ships would be topped off before leaving port and that each attack force would be accompanied by two fleet oilers. Additional fuel sources also had to be provided, since it was anticipated that the high maneuvering speeds required during combat operations would consume more fuel than could be provided by the two oilers. Accordingly, a task group of thirteen fleet oilers drawn from ServRon 8 (see

table 19) was set up as a roving fueling group. Fleet oilers in "deuces" and "treys" escorted by destroyers were dispatched to designated positions near the Gilberts where they refueled relays of combatant ships at a standard fueling speed of between 8 and 12 knots. 28 Fueling at sea was done at predetermined fueling rendezvous these were changed daily and unnecessary radio traffic was held to a minimum to reduce the possibility of submarine attack. As the groups of oilers were emptied, they returned to Pearl Harbor to reload before returning to rendezvous once again with the fleet. A separate fleet of commercial tankers was kept busy shuttling fuel between the West Coast and Pearl insuring that the underground storage tanks at Oahu were always kept full. 29

A major change occurred in the doctrine of fueling carriers at sea during the Gilberts operation. Until then, oilers had always approached the carrier instead of vice versa. Capt. Truman J. Heeding, chief of staff to commander Carrier Division 3, thought this was silly. [30 Heeding had frequently chaired the board set up by Nimitz to revise the tactical instructions for carriers during the planning stages of the operation and was in the forefront on the efforts to develop new carrier tactics. While conducting operations off Tarawa, Heeding saw a tanker with a cruiser alongside making an approach on a carrier. Turning to his boss, Rear Adm. Charles A. Pownall, Heeding made the following comment: "Look, isn't this the silliest thing you ever saw? We all know how to fly formation. Let's set the tanker up there, and let everybody come up and make an approach on the tanker and just run the fuel lines across." "Maybe that will work," replied Pownall. "Let's try it." Apparently they did, finding that it was possible to fuel without

Fueling Group, Service Squadron 8, Gilberts Operation, 10 November to 10 December 1943

Name Hull no. Program Type Data ordered Commissioned Cargo oil
Cimarron AO-22 NDF T3-S2-A1 1/38 20-Mar-39 103,233
Platte AO-24 NDF T3-S2-A1 1/38 1-Dec-39 101,638
Sabine AO-25 NDF T3-S2-A1 1/38 25-Sep-40 104,938
Guadalupe AO-32 NDF T3-S2-A1 1/38 5-Jun-41 104,938
Lackawanna AO-40 NDF Kennebec 1/40 10-Jul-42 93,195
Tappahannock AO-43 NDF Mattaponi 4/40 22-Jun-42 103,233
Neches AO-47 NDF Mattaponi 4/40 16-Sep-42 103,233
Neosho AO-48 NDF Kennebec 1/40 16-Sep-42 93,195
Suamico AO-49 L/L T2-SE-A1 4/41 10-Aug-42 106,710
Tallulah AO-50 L/L T2-SE-A1 4/41 5-Sep-42 106,710
Pecos AO-65 L/L T2-SE-A1 4/41 5-Oct-42 106,710
Neshanic AO-71 EMSCF T3-S-A1 8/41 20-Feb-43 91,929
Schuylkill AO-76 L/L T2-SE-A1 4/41 9-Apr-43 106,710
TOTAL 1,326,332
NDF = National Defense Feature Tanker Program, L/L = Lend-Lease Bill, EMSCF = Emergency Ship Construction Fund.

running into the wind and doing away with the encumbrance (and time-consuming procedure) of rigging breast or spring lines. All that was needed was to run messenger lines across, a distance line, and fuel lines. According to Heeding, "It was very simple you just flew formation, and it worked fine." 31

Kwajalein Island in the Marshalls (Operation F LINTLOCK ), January-February 1944

When plans for penetrating the Marshall Islands were being formulated, it became evident that the projected fueling-at-sea areas designated for the Fifth Fleet would be subject to attack from land-based enemy aircraft. At the insistence of Adm. Raymond Spruance, the atoll of Majuro was taken at the beginning of the operation to provide a secure base for refueling and repair. As a result of this action, fueling-at-sea activities during Operation F LINTLOCK were limited to refueling ships at prescribed points en route to operation. As in the Gilberts operation, fueling was done at prescribed points on a predetermined schedule. Better coordination and control of the at-sea fueling operation was achieved by placing Capt. Edward E. Paré, chief of staff for ComServRon 8, in command of the oiling group at sea. It should be noted that this was the first time an officer assigned to the Service Force had been given command of a task unit in the order of battle. 32

The Marianas (Operation F ORAGER ), February-June1944

With the capture of the Marshalls, the islands of Majuro, Kwajalein, and Eniwetok became the staging points for the next major push in the Pacific: the advance on the Marianas. During the planning stages for the operation, code-named F ORAGER , it was anticipated that the total fuel needs for all of the forces involved would be about 100,000 barrels per day. To meet this demand, fleet oilers would have to deliver at least 1,400,000 barrels (one oiler a day) to the forward areas every two weeks. The man in charge of executing this plan was August Gray, now a commodore (an unusual rank for the navy at this time) and known as the "Oil King of the Pacific." As commander of Service Squadron 8, Commodore Gray would be responsible for getting the oil to the advance bases. From there, Capt. Burton B. Biggs, an experienced logistics officer on Admiral Spruance's staff, would direct the fueling operation. 33

Fueling at sea was considered so important to the operational plan of the fleet that the fueling group was included in the order of battle as Task Group 50.17. The twenty oilers within the group were divided into eight task units, 16.7.1 through 16.7.8 inclusive, which were formed to provide fueling at sea. Each consisted of three oilers and at least two destroyer escorts, which were reinforced with a destroyer whenever possible. Four escort carriers were added to the group to provide replacement aircraft. Two of these, the Copahee (CVE-12) and the Breton (CVE-23), carried navy replacement aircraft. The other two, the Manila Bay (CVE-61) and the Natoma Bay (CVE-64), transported

Fueling two ships at one time became the norm in the latter part of World War II. Here, Kankakee refuels light cruiser Montpelier (CL-57) in the Solomons on 13 January 1944 while a Fletcher-class destroyer approaches to starboard to receive fuel from that side of the oiler. Note the modifications that have been made to improve oiling at sea particularly prominent are the large combination kingpost/ventilator shafts aft with their huge fueling booms. Other notable features include elevated cargo winches, a spar deck with its cargo of lube oil drums, and the addition of twin 40 mm gun positions atop the after deck house. (National Archives)

army aircraft (P-47s) for Saipan once it was secured. Four hospital ships were also included in Task Group 50.17 to take advantage of the always scarce escorts attached to the task force.

As in the Gilberts and Marshalls operations, fueling was done at prescribed points on a predetermined schedule. Capt. Edward Paré was again charged with directing and coordinating the fueling operations at sea. Designated commander Task Group 50.17, he embarked in the destroyer John D. Henley (DD-553) to direct and coordinate the

operations of oiler and aircraft replacement units in support of Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force 58. In addition to exercising tactical command, Captain Paré was also responsible for consolidating the cargoes of fleet oilers as they became empty, dispatching back to Eniwetok for reloading any oiler that had been emptied or had been reduced to less than 20,000 barrels of its cargo of black oil.

Late in the campaign, three of Captain Paré's tankers--the Saranac (AO-74), Neshanic (AO-71), and Saugatuck (AO-75)--were attacked by Japanese bombers while fueling four destroyers and destroyer escorts. The attack, which occurred at 1630 on 18 June 1944, was the first upon navy oilers in the Central Pacific. Of the three ships (all were hit), Saranac with eight killed and twenty-two wounded was the most heavily damaged and had to proceed to a navy yard for repairs. The Neshanic had a close call when a bomb exploded among gasoline drums stowed on deck, starting a fierce fire. Although the flames rose mast high, the fire was quickly extinguished by a damage-control party. 34

Fuel Logistics after the Marianas Campaign

Prior to 1944 much of the fuel for Pearl Harbor, other bases, and the fleet at sea was transported in navy oilers. Even though tankers of large capacity were reporting every month, the demand for their services increased so rapidly that after the Marshalls campaign, fleet oilers were used primarily to distribute oil directly to ships at sea. The long haul from southern California, and the longer one from the Caribbean through the Panama Canal, was made almost entirely by an endless chain of large commercial tankers, which then discharged to the fleet oilers in such anchorages as Majuro, Eniwetok, and Ulithi. In spite of the broad functions originally assigned to Service Squadron 8 and the manner in which it had expanded in number of ships and logistic planning, the existing organization could not keep up with the increasing complexity of the logistics of trying to provide enough fuel to every command in the Pacific. The first organizational change came in July 1944 when, at the request of the Army-Navy Petroleum Board in Washington, a separate Area Petroleum Office was established within Service Squadron 8. By December 1944, the magnitude of this office and the increasing importance of high-octane gasoline (used primarily by the army air force) was such as to warrant its separation from the fleet, and with it responsibility for several hundred merchant tankers and the distribution planning for oil and petroleum products.

Operations in the Philippines (S TALEMATE ), September-December 1944

Operations conducted for the invasions in the Philippines were divided between the Third and Seventh Fleets. Supplies and fuel for the combined forces in the Southwest Pacific under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, that is, those of the army and part of the Seventh Fleet, were handled through the normal logistic channels and came by way

Aircraft carriers also conducted fueling at sea, especially to top off the short-legged DEs that accompanied the CVEs. Here, the crew of the Paul G. Baker (DE-642) is taking a fuel hose from Altahama (CVE-18). Note the seaman with the line-throwing gun standing in front of the 1.1-inch mount. (National Archives)

of Australia and the Admiralty Islands. Before the invasion of Leyte, the Seventh Fleet was composed largely of submarines, amphibious craft, and motor torpedo boats. Consequently, it had a small Service Force that was ill equipped to provide logistic support for the dozens of warships from battleships down that were lent by the Pacific Fleet for this operation. Fuel oil, gasoline, and lubricants for the Seventh Fleet came largely from Aruba in the West Indies and the West Coast of the United States. Commercial tankers carried petroleum products to Australia, Manus, and Hollandia, where shore and floating storage facilities were used to produce a quick turnaround of the fast-fleet oilers. Before the operation began, Seventh Fleet possessed only three fleet oilers that were equipped for fueling at sea: the Salamonie (AO-26), Chepachet (AO-78), and Winooski (AO-38). Three more--the Ashtabula (AO-51), Saranac (AO-74), and Suamico (AO-49)--were lent from Service Squadron 8 to make another fueling unit. 35

The Third Fleet, consisting of Mitscher's fast carrier groups and Vice Adm. Theodore S. Wilkinson's southern attack force, continued

Fueling rig typical of that utilized by the large fleet carriers to refuel their escorts while under way. The second Yorktown (CV-10) refuels a Fletcher-class destroyer during the campaign to capture Okinawa. (National Archives)

to receive its supplies through the Service Force Pacific Fleet. When Service Squadron 10, the second mobile service force, was shifted from Eniwetok in the Marshalls to Ulithi in the Marianas, 1 October 1944, another 2,800 miles was added to the round-trip voyage of the commercial oilers that were being used to ferry oil directly to the advance bases. Although greatly expanded, the number of oilers available for this purpose was still limited. The added distance extended the turnaround time of the oilers involved in this task, restricting the amount of oil that could be delivered while an operation was in progress. To insure that the fleet would not run short of fuel during this period, a number of obsolete tankers were moved to Ulithi to form a floating tank farm for storing an oil reserve. This made more sense than building permanent storage facilities (as was the case with Guam and Saipan), since the navy did not intend to develop Ulithi into a permanent base once the war was over.

Once again, the task of transferring fuel from the storage facilities at the advance bases to the ships at sea was delegated to fleet oilers drawn

Suamico (AO-49) as she looked during Operation S TALEMATE . (National Archives)

from Service Squadron 8. As in the Marianas campaign, they were assigned to their own task group, the At-Sea Logistics Group Third Fleet, designated Task Group 30.8. In addition to oilers and escort carriers, fleet tugs and ammunition ships were added to the logistics group now numbering 114 ships under the command of Capt. Jasper T. Acuff. The logistic group contained thirty-four fleet oilers, eleven escort carriers, nineteen destroyers, twenty-six destroyer escorts, ten fleet tugs, and fourteen ammunition ships. It is an interesting commentary on the navy's command policy during World War II that command of the At-Sea Logistics Group at this time was not considered worthy of flag rank, although an aviation rear admiral had to be temporarily removed from command of the escort carriers in order to permit them to operate under the command of a captain from the Service Force! The fact that a service squadron such as ServRon 8 was only accorded a commodore in command even though it consisted of several hundred ships, 36 is further evidence of the second-class status of the service forces.

Fueling operations during the retaking of the Philippines differed from previous campaigns in the manner in which fuelings were scheduled.

Unlike previous operations, when fast-carrier forces rendezvoused with the oilers according to a predetermined plan, times and locations were established by Adm. William F. Halsey as needed, thus allowing him maximum freedom of action. To ensure a constant source of fuel oil, Task Group 30.8 was divided into ten or twelve task units, each consisting of three oilers, and assigned to fueling groups made up of three or four task units so that one group was always at sea within easy reach of fast carriers. Halsey's fleet was fueled in echelons so that the oilers in the fueling group were kept steaming from one rendezvous to another located just beyond the reach of enemy land-based air. About every three or four days, a fresh task unit from Task Force 30.8 would be sent to the fueling group to relieve those oilers that had already issued most of their oil. Those oilers that were low or close to empty would transfer the remainder of their oil to other tankers and retire to Ulithi for a new load of fuel. Each task unit was accompanied by an escort carrier that brought up replacement planes and pilots for the fast carriers. One or two fleet tugs also operated with the fueling group in readiness to be sent forward, if required, to pass a towline to a damaged combat ship.

From the beginning of September when operations in the Palau Islands began, through the first phase of the liberation of the Philippines, which ended on 23 January 1945, fleet tankers of the At-Sea Logistics Group delivered over eight million barrels of fuel oil and fourteen and one-half million gallons of aviation gasoline to the fast carrier forces at sea. The thirty-four oilers assigned to the group constituted the principal means of supplying the fast-carrier task group, which was at sea for thirteen out of sixteen weeks between 6 October 1944 and 26 January 1945. In addition to fuel, fleet oilers delivered everything from drums of lubrication oil, compressed gases, bottled oxygen, food, spare belly tanks, and personnel replacements, to mail. 37

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