A Service Squadron (ServRon) was a U.S. Navy squadron that supported fleet combat units. Service Squadrons were used by the United States Navy from their inception in 1943 to as late as the early 1980s. At the time of their inception during the Second World War they allowed the US Navy to operate across the vast reaches of the Pacific ocean for extended periods of time. Service Squadrons created temporary forward bases to allow the naval squadrons to spend less time in transit and more time in the area of combat. Ulithi, a small volcanic atoll in the central Pacific, is one such example. Service Squadrons essentially created a major naval base near the area of operation. With the naval base at Ulithi to refit, repair and resupply, many ships were able to deploy and operate in the western Pacific for a year or more without returning to a major port facility. Among the vessels operating in service squadrons were tankers, oilers, refrigerator ships, ammunition ships, supply ships, floating docks and repair ships. They provided diesel, ordnance, aviation fuel, food stuffs and all other supplies. Equally important at places like Ulithi were the portable piers and floating dry docks which allowed many ships damaged by enemy action or Pacific storms to undergo repair without having to travel the thousands of miles back to a major US naval base. Ulithi was as far forward from the US naval base at San Francisco as the San Francisco base was from London, England. To have a fully functional major port in the middle of the Pacific was a significant aid to U.S. Navy operations.
The commander of the service squadron was responsible for the operation of all the ships, docks and repair yards in the squadron. The Commander was referred to as ComServRon, with the title followed by the unit designation of his Squadron, such as ComServRon 10.
Service Squadrons were slowly disbanded as fleet combat support functions were shifted to Military Sealift Command, manned by civilians in the late 1970s.
War in the Pacific
Service squadrons played a vital role in the war in the Pacific during the second world war. The Pacific ocean with its vast reaches was a significant obstacle to overcome. In considering their war in the Pacific against the United States, the Japanese had counted on the fact that the size of the Pacific Ocean would in itself be a defense. For the US Navy to conduct operations against the Japanese, all actions would necessarily be far from their home ports. Travel to the area of combat would consume the fleet's supplies of fuel and food and limit the length of time US Navy assets could operate in the Western Pacific. Japanese naval strategy ('Kantai Kessen') was built around the idea that this would present them with an opportunity to knock the US Navy out of the conflict with a single decisive action. They sought such an opportunity throughout the war.
Creation of Service Squadrons
In his planning for how the war in the Pacific would be fought and won, Admiral Chester Nimitz knew the manufacturing might of the United States would eventually supply him with a force large enough to overcome the forces of the Empire of Japan. He referred to this future force as the 'Big Blue Fleet'. To make it effective at projecting its power, he would need to devise a way to keep it supplied and in fighting condition. The ongoing resupply of a large naval force across the vast expanse of the Pacific would require the US Navy to perform something no navy had ever accomplished before.
In the autumn of 1943 Admiral Nimitz ordered the creation of two service squadrons. These two squadrons would provide mobile service to the fleet as it moved across the Pacific — with one service as fleet base while the second remained to the rear. As the fleet captured new sites the rear squadron would move to the front and act as fleet base. Commanding officer Commodore Worrall R. Carter devised the mobile service squadrons that made it possible for the Navy to create repair facilities and re-supply facilities thousands of miles away from an actual Naval port. He did this essentially by bringing the port to the Navy. Admiral Nimitz referred to Service Squadron 4 and Service Squadron 10 as his "secret weapons".
Service Squadron 4 was commissioned on 1 November 1943 with its mission being to provide logistics support to fleet operations from floating mobile bases. The squadron initially was made up of 24 vessels and had its base in the South Pacific at the Funafuti Atoll, a thousand miles west of the Solomon Islands and 1200 miles south of the Marshall Islands. The USS Cascade, under the command of Captain Samuel Ogden, was the flagship for the squadron. The command included repair ships USS Phaon and USS Vestal. The Cascade arrived at Funafuti on November 21, 1943 and remained there until February 1944. During this period Captain Worrall Reed Carter (USNA 1908), was organizing the second service squadron, Service Squadron 10. Service Squadron 10 was commissioned on 15 January 1944 at Pearl Harbor.
The Marshall Islands were considered the first major stepping stone for the battles across the Central Pacific to Japan. United States Marines were landed on January 30, 1944, but found that Japanese forces had previously evacuated their fortifications to Kwajalein and Enewetak about a year earlier. The islands that made up the Majuro atoll were secured without incident. Majuro had one of the largest natural anchorages in the Pacific. It became the first major forward base for the US Pacific fleet and was the largest and most active port in the world until the war moved westward and Majuro became supplanted by Ulithi.
After the capture of Kwajalein in February 1944 the Cascade moved from Funafuti to Kwajalein. On 17 March 1944 Squadron 4 was absorbed into Squadron 10. Captain Herbert Meyer Scull (USNA 1919,) was reassigned as Chief of Staff for Rear Admiral Hoover, Commander Forward Area, Central Pacific. Captain Samuel Ogden in the Cascade became representative "A" of Commander Service Squadron 10 in command of Kwajalein and Roi. The Cascade remained at Kwajalein until May 1944 when she moved to Eniwetok.
The United States captured Eniwetok in a five-day amphibious operation in February 1944. Major combat occurred on Engebi Islet, which was the most important Japanese installation on the atoll. Combat also occurred on the main islet of Eniwetok itself, and on Parry Island, the site of a Japanese seaplane base.
Following its capture, the anchorage at Eniwetok became a major forward naval base for the U.S. Navy. On 5 June Commodore Carter joined ServRon 10 at Eniwetok. His flagship was the Prairie (AD-15). The following ships were also present in July 1944: destroyer tenders Cascade, Piedmont (AD-17), and Markab (AD-21); repair ship Hector (AR-7); repair ship landing craft Egeria (ARL-8); floating drydocks ARD-13, ARD-15; mobile floating drydock AFD-15; and floating workshop YR-30.
During July 1944 there were a large number of vessels present at Eniwetok. The daily average of ships present during the first half of July was 488; during the second half of July the daily average number of ships at Eniwetok was 283. By the end of July Commodore Worrall R. Carter flew to Pearl Harbor to participate in planning the move of Servron 10 facilities from Eniwetok to Ulithi. By this point in the conflict, Commander Service Squadron 10 (ComServRon 10) had several hundred ships and floating equipment under his operational control, and had the largest staff afloat in the Pacific to help administrate responsibilities.
Seeadler Harbor, Manus. On 30 July 1944, representatives of Central Pacific Forces, headed by Commodore A.G. Quynn, met at Naval Base Manus, Admiralty Islands, with representatives of Commander Seventh Fleet, Commander Southwest Pacific Forces, and Naval Base Manus to discuss logistic support of Third Fleet units using Manus as a base in the Western Carolines operation. As a result, Captain S.B. Ogden was ordered to Manus as Commander Service Squadron Ten representative, bringing with him units necessary to service Third Fleet vessels. He left Kwajalein in the Marshalls on the Argonne, Commander T.H. Escott, on 21 August and reached Seeadler Harbor on the 27th to set up his mobile base, using the Argonne as his flagship.
Commander Third Fleet's logistic plan for Operation STALEMATE II, covering the capture of Peleliu,. Ngesebus, Anguar, and Ulithi required that there should be available in Seeadler Harbor one 90,000-ton floating drydock, one 1,000-ton floating drydock, one destroyer tender, one repair ship, two 3,000-ton floating drydocks, and four floating workshops—two for hulls, two for machinery repairs, Besides these, there were added from time to time two destroyer tenders, one repair ship for internal combustion engines, four station tankers, one repair ship, two covered lighters, one water and one fuel oil barge, and two pontoon cranes.
Captain Ogden's responsibility, as Representative "A" of Commander Service Squadron Ten in charge of his Seeadler detachment, was to administer its activities in rendering logistic support. An example was the requirement that 24 oilers be present there for the striking forces, and the further requirement that the Area Petroleum Office of ComServPac effect delivery of 4,150,000 barrels of fuel oil at Manus in equal amounts throughout September. On 20 August 12 oilers left Eniwetok for Seeadler, carrying approximately 1,200,000 barrels of naval special, 84,000 barrels of Diesel oil, and 4,500,000 gallons of aviation gasoline. Commander ServRon Ten at Eniwetok immediately began preparations to send the second contingent of oilers, which left on the 27th and reached Seeadler the 31st. Captain Ogden handled the assignment of the tankers and apportioned delivery of fuel and petroleum products. He similarly administered the supply of fresh and frozen foods, dry provisions, dry stores, ammunition, fresh water, medical items, fleet freight, aviation supplies, and last but not least, repair facilities.
Following the Argonne to Seeadler on 27 August were the unclassified vessels Silver Cloud, Caribou, Arethusa, and Armadillo, the water barge YW-90, and the ocean tug Tern towing the concrete barge YO-186. The Caribou brought 65,000 barrels of fuel oil, the Silver Cloud 85,000 and the Arethusa 65,000; the Armadillo 24,000 barrels of Diesel oil and 1,770,000 gallons of aviation gasoline. YW-90 held 280,000 gallons of water, and the concrete YO-186 55,000 barrels. The fleet tug Tawasa towed in the floating drydock ARD-19, while the auxiliary ocean tug ATA-122 arrived towing the barges YF-681, filled with boatswain's stores of manila and wire line, blocks, tackle, mooring gear, etc., and YF-787 with general stores. Bringing in the drydock also meant bringing her in full, for while being towed from port to port her docking space furnished a wealth of cargo room for all sorts of equipment. On her trip from Eniwetok the ARD-19 carried the little harbor tug YTL-208, 2 pontoon crane barges, 20 LCM's, and 20 LCVP's. Except for the crane barges all these were self-propelled, but none could have made its way across the ocean under its own power. Most of Ogden's detachment was sent down from Kwajalein and Eniwetok. Crane barges, small tugs, and landing craft were vital necessities for supply services within a harbor, and had to go forward. We shall see later how the ARD's continued their usefulness as "moving vans" in the shifting of a service squadron westward.
For resupply in the combat area, the ammunition ships Mauna Loa and Shasta left Seeadler 15 September for Kossol Passage, Palau Islands, and upon arrival on the 18th immediately began rearming battleships and cruisers of the Naval Gunfire Support Group. On the 22d the Lassen also left Seeadler for Kossol, where she issued replacement ammunition to the support group and to Task Force 38.3. Most fire-support ships for STALEMATE were supplied in the Solomons, with the exception of the battleships Mississippi, which had been overhauled and loaded on the west coast, and the Maryland, loaded at Pearl after completion of battle-damage repairs. Naval Base Tulagi reported for August 1944 that the magazine issued 2,600 tons of ammunition to destroyers, cruisers, and battleships, and 500 tons to landing craft. The Tennessee, which collided on 23 August with the California, was able to join the fire-support group after repair, but the California did not leave Espiritu until 18 September.
Rehearsal for Phase I of STALEMATE for fire-support ships was held in the Cape Esperance area, Guadalcanal, 27 to 29 August. The Sangay, with 2,936 tons of ammunition, arrived there from the west coast on 6 September, accompanied the group to the objective, and during the early hours of D-day, 15 September, lay off Peleliu Island ready to make issues. She remained in the vicinity until afternoon of the 21st, when she went to Kossol Passage, joining the Mauna Loa and Shasta. Next day the three were joined by the Lassen, and all four issued replacement ammunition to retiring vessels. By the 27th, 66 ships of various types were in Kossol Passage. Because of the total lack of anchorages in the vicinity of Anguar and Peleliu, Kossol proved a roadstead where ships could await call to unload at Peleliu, and also where replenishment of fuel, stores, and ammunition was accomplished. It was used extensively through October and November 1944 as a staging area en route from New Morotai (Operation INTERLUDE); ammunition was supplied at a number of bases in the area, and from 5 ammunition ships which visited Hollandia and Woendi during August and September.
Captain C.C. Laws, commanding the repair ship Prometheus, on 3 October became the Kossol Passage Representative of Service Squadron Ten.
Ulithi was perfectly positioned to act as a staging area for the US Navy's western Pacific operations. The atoll is in the westernmost of the Caroline Islands, 360 miles (580 km) southwest of Guam, 850 miles (1,370 km) east of the Philippines and 1,300 miles (2,100 km) south of Tokyo. It is a typical volcanic atoll, with a coral reef, white sand beaches and palm trees. Ulithi's forty small islands barely rise above the sea, with the largest being only half a square mile in area. However the reef runs roughly twenty miles north and south by ten miles across, enclosing a vast anchorage with an average depth of 80 to 100 feet (30 m). The anchorage was well situated, but of course there were no port facilities to repair ships or re-supply the fleet.
The survey ship USS Sumner surveyed the lagoon and reported it capable of holding 700 vessels. Service Squadron 10 was called upon to convert the lagoon into a serviceable naval station. On 4 October 1944 the vessels of Service Squadron 10 began leaving Eniwetok for Ulithi.
At Ulithi pontoon piers of a new design were built, each consisting of the 4-by-12-pontoon sections, filled with sand and gravel, and then sunk. The pontoons were anchored in place by guy ropes to deadmen on shore, and by iron rods driven into the coral. Connecting tie pieces ran across the tops of the pontoons to hold them together into a pier. Despite extremely heavy weather on several occasions these pontoon piers stood up remarkably well. They gave extensive service, with little requirement for repairs. Piers of this type were also installed by the 51st Battalion to be used as aviation-gasoline mooring piers near the main airfield on Falalop.
On 8 October 1944 Commodore Worrall R. Carter's flagship the USS Prairie, the merchant ammunition ship Plymouth Victory and the USS Cascade sailed for Ulithi. The Markab initially remained at Eniwetok, leaving for Ulithi on 18 October 1944 and arriving on 22 October.
Within a month of the occupation of Ulithi, a whole floating base was in operation. Six thousand ship fitters, artificers, welders, carpenters, and electricians arrived aboard repair ships, destroyer tenders, and floating dry docks. The USS Ajax had an air-conditioned optical shop and a metal fabrication shop with a supply of base metals from which she could make any alloy to form any part needed. The USS Abatan, which looked like a big tanker, really distilled fresh water and baked bread and pies. The ice cream barge made 500 gallons a shift. The dry docks towed to Ulithi were large enough to lift dry a 45,000 ton battleship. Fleet oilers sortied to and from Ulithi to meet the task forces at sea, refueling the warships a short distance from their combat operational areas. The result was something never seen before: a vast floating service station enabling the entire Pacific fleet to operate indefinitely at unprecedented distances from its mainland bases. Service Squadron 10's conversion of the lagoon at Ulithi to a major naval resupply and staging area was one of the most remarkable feats of the war.
Ulithi became the undisclosed Pacific base for the major operations late in the war, including Leyte Gulf and the Okinawa operation. The huge anchorage capacity was greater than either Majuro or Pearl Harbor, and over seven hundred ships anchored there at a time. After Leyte Gulf was secured, the Pacific Fleet moved its forward staging area to Leyte.
In September 1944 the USS Ocelot arrived at Pearl Harbor to undergo conversion to flagship for Service Squadron 10. The ship was fitted with extensive radio and visual signaling equipment, with radio and coding rooms in the superstructure, and berths for the squadron commander, staff officers, and enlisted men below. The conversion was completed in October, and Ocelot sailed via Eniwetok for Ulithi where she spent the next six months providing an administrative post at the advanced base.
San Pedro Bay, Leyte
The logistic work of Service Squadron Ten at Leyte should perhaps be briefly explained. While that was an area under the cognizance of the Seventh Fleet, which at that time did not come under the direct command of Admiral Nimitz, it was nevertheless a matter of brothers-in-arms cooperation to give support wherever possible. Therefore, because of shortage of the necessary service vessels in the Service Force Seventh Fleet, a detachment of Service Squadron Ten was sent to Leyte to help out. In it was a floating drydock of 3,500 tons and another smaller one, as the shore-base development planned for the area was not far enough advanced to meet the requirements. Later, when the Third and Fifth Fleets based there, Service Squadron Ten moved in with a large detachment to take care of the logistics without drawing upon the shore base for anything except the occasional use of the battleship drydock at Samar.
Nearly all ships of the Southern Attack Force and the Western Islands Attack Group for the Okinawa operation assembled and loaded at Leyte. Initial plans designated Commander Service Force Seventh Fleet as the responsible service agency, and Commander Amphibious Group Twelve as responsible logistically for servicing the ships of the Joint Expeditionary Force staging at Leyte. When it became apparent that Seventh Fleet could not supply the needs of this force, Commander Service Squadron Ten's Representative A, Captain Ogden, was ordered from Kossol Roads to provide services for Nimitz's ships in the area. ComServFor Seventh Fleet provided additional services as requested by Captain Ogden.
Arriving 15 February 1945 in the Argonne, Captain Ogden reported to Rear Admiral J.L. Hall, Jr., commanding Amphibious Group Twelve. Pending arrival of additional service-force units, conferences were held to obtain an over-all grasp of the problems involved. It was determined that sufficient quantities of everything required were either available or could be made so at Leyte. All ships had to be provisioned before the training and rehearsal period, and topped off just before departure to the objective. Schedules were interrupted by foul weather and the late arrival of some of the ships from Iwo Jima. The distances from troop embarkation points to the logistic anchorage, 15 to 30 miles, added to the problem.
Maintenance facilities available to staging forces were the destroyer tenders Dixie and Markab; one limited repair ship, the Argonne; two repair ships, the Hector and Prometheus; one internal-combustion-engine repair ship; and two floating drydocks. Two landing-craft repair ships, Egeria and Endymion, which were assigned to the amphibious group, were available after 1 March. Because of the limited time in which to accomplish essential repairs and the length of time required to load ships, it was decided to place one repair ship in each of the two loading areas so that a maximum of work could be accomplished prior to departure. Work on small craft was undertaken by three of the other repair ships.
The total number of ships to be serviced at Leyte was 432, some—ships newly reporting from the United States—needing little attention, others considerable, especially amphibious craft returning from Iwo Jima. Of the floating drydocks, both brought forward from Kossol, ARD-16 was unavailable for the staging work because it contained a battle-damaged destroyer, the Renshaw. Consequently, ARD-17 carried most of this type of work, with Seventh Fleet facilities used on several occasions. To complete what would normally be the necessary drydock work every available diver was used. Because of experience gained with many small ships in this staging, a definite need was indicated of having small drydocks of 1,000 tons and pontoon docks to reinforce the 3,500-ton ARD's.
At Saipan in addition to the floating facilities of Squadron Ten there was a tank farm for 150,000 barrels of black oil, 30,000 of Diesel, and 900,000 gallons of aviation gasoline, a supply depot of 64 steel warehouses 40 × 100 feet each, plus 11 refrigerator units of 640 cubic feet each. The naval ammunition depot had 112 steel magazines, 4 torpedo magazines, and considerable open storage. An amphibious-vessel repair base comprised 5 shops 40 × 100 feet each in floor space, a 12-ton crane on a pontoon barge, a 6 × 18 pontoon drydock, and additional fuel storage of four 10,000-barrel Diesel tanks and two 1,000 barrel tanks for aviation gasoline. A small-boat repair unit with 4 × 15 pontoon drydock had a mobile machine shop. There was also a special small-boat pool and an LVT repair facility run by the amphibious force, two 75-ton cranes on 6 × 18 pontoon lighters, and a pier for handling ammunition between ship and shore
Buckner Bay, Okinawa
On 13 September Ocelot moved westward again, to Buckner Bay, Okinawa as the forward supply followed the course of the conflict finally to the home waters of Japan. Shortly after arrival there the facilities were struck by Typhoon Louise (1945) and a number of vessels were lost. The Ocelot was forced aground and its back was broken. Command was shifted to another vessel and the job of keeping the Navy supplied continued.
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