Chapter IV

THE SMALL island of Borabora in the Society group was fated to become notorious in the Navy as BOBCAT. Here was established the first wartime Advance Base. On 7 December 1941, the need for an additional fueling station in the South Pacific was unrecognized. Yet on 27 January 1942, a convoy of six ships sailed from Charleston, South Carolina for Borabora. It arrived on 17 February, but not until June were the fueling facilities capable of use. For rapidity in getting under way the movement was a creditable achievement. Even in the emergency conditions which then prevailed, the machinery of the Navy Department functioned successfully in that phase of the task. The next exacting trial in the field uncovered flagrant defects. Form an early stage in the planning, however, the officers concerned had anticipated shortcomings.1 As a recognized proving ground, the operation demands detailed consideration.

The sudden decision to establish a refueling base in the South Pacific was one consequence of the strategic situation produced by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Navy Base War Plan RAINBOW, No. 5, which came into force on 7 December 1941, set for the Navy as its chief offensive task "to capture the Azores, Cape Verde, Marshall, and Caroline Island [sic]."2 The task of the Pacific Fleet was to "Prepare to capture and establish control of the Caroline and Marshall


Area, and to establish an Advanced Fleet Base in Truk." It was assumed that these preparations would be completed six months after the outbreak of war.3 In fact, the war plan of the Pacific Fleet was drastically revised on 8 December. The foregoing assignment was eliminated altogether and the first task became the protection of the sea communications of the Associated Powers, and the second, the support of the Army in the defense of the Hawaiian Coastal Frontier. Johnston and Palmyra Islands were specifically added to Samoa as points which required defense.4

This emergency revision of the tasks assigned to the Pacific Fleet is symbolic of the conditions under which BOBCAT was established. Planning was done in extreme haste by a staff which changed and expanded daily at all levels; execution immediately followed decision; initial implementation proceeded the typing of even provisional plans.

On the morrow of Pearl Harbor, the protection of the sea communications of the Associated Powers meant, in the Pacific, the retention of control over a reasonably direct route form the United States and Panama to Australia-New Zealand. When RAINBOW No. 5 was drawn, it had been realized that a successful defense of Guam and the Philippines might not be feasible. It was specifically decided that Army reinforcements should not be sent to the Philippines, and Guam was placed in a still lower category of the defense. Midway, Johnston, and Palmyra, however, were grouped with Unalaska, Hawaii, Iceland, and the Panama Canal. The categories of defense reflect the estimated danger from


enemy attack as well as the strategic importance of the areas in question. In other words, it was expected that the Japanese offensive would be contained within the Western Pacific, and that the established base facilities in the Central and South Pacific areas would remain secure. When the attack on Pearl Harbor transformed the situation, it became imperative that Central and South American sites for bases be denied to the enemy and that new facilities be provided for fueling ships and planes. This is what prompted the decision to establish BOBCAT in the shortest possible time.

On Christmas Day, Admiral King, already in Washington, but not formally installed as CominCh, requested the War Plans Division of CNO to "proceed at once to study the matter of a fueling base in the central South Pacific area--the Marquesas, Society, or Cook Island [sic]."5 Five days later, a preliminary report summarized the merits and defects of the various possible site in the designated area and recommended that the base be established in Trevanui Harbor on Borabora. It outlined the steps necessary to secure from the Free French governmental authority permission to establish the base; Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles had already expressed the opinion that there would be no difficulty in this regard. It further recommended the general features of the base; defense by a Marine or an Army detachment of 3500 men equipped with suitable ordnance, including six 7" guns, a patrol squadron of six planes based on an AVP, storage facilities for 20,000 barrels of oil and 37,500 barrels of gasoline, suitable specified anti-submarine and torpedo defense, harbor facilities, housing and other


necessary gear. Admiral King approved the recommendation.6 Nine days later there was issued a Joint Basic Plan for the occupation and defense of Borabora, which provided that a convoy set sail for that destination on 25 January, precisely one month from the initiation of the preliminary study.

Such extremely rapid execution of the complicated task of drawing detailed plans and procuring matériel for a naval base would hardly have been possible, had the bases in the United Kingdom not been constructed in the previous year. In the performance of that undertaking fundamental administrative machinery in the Navy Department had been elaborated, and a stock pile of Advance Base Materials accumulated at Davisville, Rhode island. The training of certain specialized operating personnel had been accomplished, although their skills had been diverted in the emergency to fill other vastly more urgent needs. Thus, the embryo of the Advance base organization already existed. Operation BOBCAT was its first major wartime assignment.

The formal Joint Basic Plan for the occupation and defense of Borabora, of 8 January 1942, directed that a fueling base--code name and short title, "BOBCAT"--be established at Borabora by the Navy and defended by the Army. The specified joint task was to "hold Borabora as a fueling station for vessels and seaplanes of the United Nations." To the Navy was assigned responsibility for the primary mission of the base, to "construct, administer, and operate the Naval Fuel Depot, Seaplane Base and harbor facilities at Borabora." It was stated that


"Raids on the base during and after its establishment (were) a distinct possibility, but ... a major attack (was) not anticipated in the near future." The appropriate Navy and Army personnel were assigned, the Army, by designated units totaling roughly 3,900 men, the Navy, only by approximate number, 500. Matériel, equipment, and supplies were ordered to be supplied, both initially and subsequently, by each of the services according to a specified schedule. in general, the Navy was to furnish transportation, to equip the base, except for Army ordnance and standard Army equipment, to provide subsistence en route, and to supply the 7" guns and their ammunition. The Army was to furnish standard equipment for its units, ordnance (except the 7"guns), and ammunition, and subsistence ashore for all personnel. Supplies and maintenance material, except ammunition, for which there was a special schedule, were to be provided initially by both the Army and Navy at 60 days supply, to be increased to and maintained at 90 days supply. Six ships were detailed by memo to load; for the Navy, at Quonset, Rhode Island, and at Norfolk, Virginia; for the Army, at Charleston, South Carolina. It was ordered that unity of command be exercised by the senior Naval officer of the escort forces while the convoy was under way and subsequently by the Army Commanding Officer, BOBCAT, under the command of the Commanding General, Hawaiian Department. Finally, provision was made that those elements in the planning, for which there had not been adequate time, should be completed; for the defense of BOBCAT, by the Commanding Officer, subject to the approval of the Commanding General, Hawaiian Department; for loading Army personnel and cargo, under the


direction of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-4; for the construction of naval installations by BuDocks; for the procurement of material and the location of underwater defenses, harbor facilities, navigational aids, naval local defense forces, naval communications facilities, and the lending of naval cargo and personnel, by CNO (Op-30); for subsisting all personnel while afloat by BuSandA and BuNav. The plan,, to be executed upon receipt, was signed by Admiral King, Admiral Stark, and General Marshall.7

This plan has several noteworthy features. At a moment when the atmosphere resounded with indictments of their ability to cooperate, the Navy, which meant all the Bureaus and several of the Offices, the Army, the State Department, and the maritime Commission reached very prompt accord on the general features of a complicated undertaking. Their agreement assumed the resolution of problems of detail for the exploration of which time had been lacking. The success of the whole project rested upon future planning which might and, indeed, did lead to significant changes in the basic plan. For the Navy, this work was shared by two chief agencies, BuDocks and Op-30. And from the beginning almost to the end, the formulation and the execution of plans proceeded simultaneously.

The dispatch of the BOBCAT convoy was the product of the cooperative labor of the planning agencies of the Navy at a moment when other emergency problems demanded instant action. General direction was exercised by Rear Admiral R.K. Turner, Director of the War Plans Division of CNO. The more detailed work was supervised by


Captain E.J. Gillam of the War Plans Section of the Naval Districts Division. Captain Hutchins and Major H.L. Litzenberg, USMC, effected liaison with the Army. Decisions were the upshot of many unrecorded telephonic and direct conversations. That they were made rapidly and were modified frequently is revealed by the informal, undated and unsigned memoranda and notes which stud the relevant files.8

The exact evolution of the process of planning cannot be determined and is of no consequence. These were the broad outlines. Directives covering the equipment under the cognizance of the Bureaus of Ordnance and Ships were prepared by Op-30 and issue by CNO on 3 January. The contributions of those bureaus were relatively small and easily determined. On the same day, Op-30 also requested BuNav to detail for duty with the expedition four officers and fifty-nine enlisted men in specified rates. This complement was increased by fifteen enlisted men in an amplifying directive on 5 January and later again raised. By 4 January, sufficient progress had been made in planning the general character of the operation for a memorandum outlining the salient feature form the Navy's point of view to be sent to the Assistant Chief of Staff, Army War Plans Division. On the next day, CominCh addressed to CNO (Director, NTS) a request for transportation which specified the cubic feet and weight of the cargo and the approximate number of personnel which would be lifted at each of three loading points. By the afternoon of 7 January, arrangements had become sufficiently firm for the actual drafting of the formal joint plan.


Simultaneously, many of the officers engaged in the preparations for BOBCAT met together "to pick up all the loose ends." An early example of what was to develop into the weekly "Friday conference" i Op-30, this meeting was attended by officers attached to Op-30, Op-12, Op-23, Op-24, Op-39, the Bureaus of Yards and Docks, Medicine and Surgery, Ships, and Ordnance, and by Colonel Ostrom (prospective Commanding Officer of BOBCAT) and another Army representative. It should be noticed that neither the prospective Commanding Officer of the Naval Unit, nor any member of his staff was present at this or a subsequent conference. The subjects discussed included the aviation unit and its planes, the ships which would transport the expedition, radio communication facilities, small boats and barges, messing, medical facilities and personnel, and ordnance equipment. The details of the discussion do not warrant present attention. They revealed a number of misunderstandings, such as BuMed's failure to realize that the Navy would rely upon the Army for most medical facilities and that there need be sent only enough Navy medical personnel to take care of Navy medical records. A principal purpose of the conference was to determine, "as accurately as possible the tonnage and cubage (to be loaded) at each ... of the three points involved ...". The purpose of the conference was fulfilled. Most of the problems were satisfactorily resolved and their solutions were incorporated in the Joint Basic Plan issued the next day.9

It is clear that the meeting on 7 January was essentially merely a more formal phase--a stenographic transcript of the discussion was made--of the many conversations which decided the main features of


the plan. The directives and the Joint Plan itself were, not the orders in compliance with which action was actually taken, but a reductio to writing of oral understandings and directions already being executed.

With the promulgation of the Joint Basic Plan on 8 January, the fundamental planning for BOBCAT was completed; the general character of the operation had been determined. In this process a major part of the work had been done by the War Plans and Naval Districts Divisions of Operations. They had exercised liaison with the Army. They had given formal direction for the phase of the job carried out in detail by the Bureaus of Ships, Ordnance, and Navigation, and by the Naval Transportation Service. Yet no directive had been issued to the other Bureaus.

Since those other Bureaus had, nevertheless, been concerned with the expedition, explanation of the omission must be sought. The role of BuMed was minor, since the Army was charged with the medical care of the base. The inclusion of a nucleus of Hospital Corpsmen in the personnel directive to BuNav thus covered the responsibility of BuMed. Major Litzenberg in Op-12 seems to have undertaken general direction of the aviation phase of the planning. BuAer issued on BOBCAT directive, a request ot BuNav for the detail of personnel.10 Since it lacked other specific written authority, this directive can be described only as compliance with the intent of the Joint Basic Plan. The task of BuSandA was routine in nature, its accomplishment directed by the Joint Plan, and the necessary plans were drawn by 9 January.11


This accounts for all the Bureaus except Yards and Docks.

The task of BuDocks was much greater than that of any other Bureau. In the Joint Plan, it was assigned full responsibility for the general design and equipment of the base. Almost exactly half of the total cargo (Army and Navy) was scheduled to be lifted at Quonset, and of that half, the major part was BuDocks material. The Construction Battalion (under direct control of BuDocks) comprised well over half the personnel assigned to the operation. The planning officers in BuDocks worked in the closest touch with those in Operations. Yet its authority rested directly on the Joint Plan.

In the planning of BOBCAT, responsibility was thus distributed illogically. Two division of CNO and several, but not all, of the Bureaus worked on the highest plane. CNO directives to other Bureaus covered a middle level of business, those matters which were not merely routine, but were a minor feature of the operation. In short, CNO exercised responsibility so far as it was competent to do so, but relied on other agencies, notably BuDocks, for tasks for which it lacked the personnel, knowledge, and experience. The planning of operation BOBCAT demonstrates, in a specific situation, that the inherent confusion of authority and function, deriving form the ambiguous statutory description of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, still existed in January 1942.

During the nineteen days which intervened between the completion of the Joint Basic Plan and the sailing of the convoy from Charleston, the coordinating task of CNO continued to be heavy. The


complementary plans, the preparation of which had been assigned to Op-30, were issued on 12 January. They summarized the materials which were being assembled by the cognizant Bureaus at the three loading points. They specified the number of naval personnel and the materials for underwater defenses, harbor facilities, local defense, and communications. They included summary instructions for loading, indicating the tonnage assigned to each ship at port. They directed explicitly that "materials ... be so loaded that unloading will be in order of priority: (a) lighter-age, (b) shore defenses, (c) fuel tanks, (d) Army housing." "In loading both material and personnel, essential items (were to) be divided between two ships."12 More detailed loading plans of a less formal nature, were prepared in the Navy Department and entrusted to the officers in direct charge of loading.13 It is clear that the importance of proper loading was thoroughly appreciated in Washington. The conditions under which loading took place, however, made Op-30's plan incapable of accomplishment.

The ships which transported the men and materials to BOBCAT were procured by the Naval Transportation Service with difficulty. There follows a list of the ships selected on 6 January, with their status at that time:


President Fillmore (controlled by Maritime Commission)  
President Tyler (controlled by Maritime Commission) at Brooklyn
Irene Dupont (AK) (controlled by Maritime Commission) in Norfolk area
Alchiba (AK) (controlled by NTS) at New York
Hamul (AK) (controlled by NTS) at Boston
Mercury (AK) (controlled by NTS) en route Panama to New York

The President Fillmore had recently grounded, but it was believed that her damage was minor and that there would be ample time for her repair. By 8 January, however, it had been determined that the necessary repairs could not be accomplished within the allotted time. The S.S. African Comet (renamed Arthur Middleton prior to 10 January), than at New York under the control of ComTHREE, was substituted promptly enough for the change to be incorporated in the Joint Basic Plan. Thus, there was introduced the ship whose condition delayed the sailing of the convoy. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the substitution was fortunate. The President Fillmore was a sister of the President Tyler, which was later described by Commander C.H. Sanders, C.C., U.S. Naval Unit, Base BOBCAT, as "a mess." The Middleton, moreover, had 2,000 tons greater cargo capacity. The ships were selected with due consideration for the time necessary for repairs, loading, and arming (except the Tyler and the Middleton, which were already armed).

The schedule was tight. The utmost speed was essential, since the growing activity of German submarines in American coastal waters meant that delay increased the danger which the operation had to run. In spite of loading difficulties, submarines, fog, and other hazards, all the ships reached Charleston by the afternoon of 23 January. Difficulties which were surmounted included, for example, the


arming of the Mercury. She departed for Quonset on her return to New York from Panama so promptly that Op-23 failed to get her armament loaded in New York. Her stay in Quonset was too brief for the guns to be sent to Quonset by rail. Hence, the armament was sent to Charleston and installed there. Another serious problem was lack of experienced labor for loading in Charleston. Most of this cargo was for the Army, and the loading took place at the Army Base, which in peace time had not handled heavy emergency jobs. "The stevedoring ... was very slow. All were negroes with a few white bosses--the bosses being the only ones who knew anything about loading ... All Navy personnel worked night and day ... They did it about twice as fast as the stevedores."14 Still another problem had its roots in a lack of clear definition of responsibility in the Joint Basic Plan for the loading of Army personnel. After protracted consultation, the Army undertook the job, although Commander Sanders thought that it clearly belonged to the Navy. Then the Army raised the question of responsibility for meeting emergencies while under way. In the absence from the joint Plan of specific provision for the problem, the Army officers found lo legal means of recognizing the authority of a naval officer over Army personnel. In practice, Commander Sanders worked out the essential details--general quarters bill, abandon ship bill, fire bill, etc.15

In spite of these obstacles, the convoy could have met its sailing date as originally planned, had the Middleton been seaworthy.


While she was in New York, her master recommended that 1,500 tons of ballast be installed to compensate for the weight of her armament. He was informed that such a precaution was unnecessary. Charleston, however, was instructed that special care should be taken in loading her.16 Nevertheless, it finally became apparent that she must be ballasted. That process delayed the sailing of the convoy until 27 January.17

The voyage to Borabora was uneventful, the only part of the early history of BOBCAT which lacked untoward incident. Immediately upon arrival, however, problems were encountered of Gargantuan proportions, which paled the difficulties of getting under way. The information about local conditions, for example, terrain and water supply, turned out [to] be deficient and erroneous. Cargo had been badly loaded and essential items either omitted from the outfitting lists or left on the dock on the Atlantic seaboard. Much equipment, particularly that required for unloading and transporting heavy and bulky gear, turned out to be inadequate in quantity or faulty in design. Relations with the French authorities were not wholly smooth. Cooperation between Army and Navy was not perfect. The story is long and sad, but certain elements only are germane to the present study. They can conveniently be considered in connection with the reports in which they were outlined.

Hardly had the convoy shoved off when the failure in the smooth performance of the operation began to receive attention in Washington. The reports all acknowledged the extraordinary circumstances


which had prevailed. Their criticism and recommendations were explicitly motivated by a desire that parallel errors be avoided in the future. Three broad categories may be distinguished: 1, Delay in the sailing of the convoy; 2, Faulty loading; 3, Errors of omission and commission in planning.

The first of these failings--the delay of the convoy was superficially minor. The actually delay was of only two days and sprang from one chief source. When the timetable of the operation had been figured, no one had known that the Middleton would require ballast or that the process would take two days. An exculpating report drawn up in Op-23 purported to show that the task assigned to it--the repair and arming of the assigned ships--was fulfilled in all details. Except for the Middleton, all vessels were ready to sail on time. The report suggested that "no blame attaches to anyone connected with the enterprise excepting the people who set the date, and that those can be excused as one should be permitted to expect stability in a new ship of (her) size sufficient to carry the armament given her." The author of the report, nevertheless, made several suggestions for future movements. In substance, they amounted to a proposal that each of the functional divisions of CNO-CominCh be assigned its own specialized task, which it should be allowed to fulfill without interference. "Each phase to be handled by people who know what they are doing, all others to keep lear." Op-23 specifically stated that "the shipyards were subjected to considerable interruption and annoyance by telephone calls from all sorts of people." Another positive recommendation was that


"Fleet Maintenance check the condition of vessels and ascertain the earliest date of readiness for loading" before the sailing date of an operation be set. This suggestion, it may be inferred ,arose from the fact that Op-23 had not really met the target dates for the completion of repairs and arming, and that this was a contributory cause of the delay in the sailing of the convoy. In the specific example of the Middleton, whose condition turned out to be the controlling factor, here orders were to sail from New York in time to reach Charleston "prior to 20 January if possible." She left New York at 2300 on 18 January, with expected arrival about 1200 on 20 January. She actually arrived at 1400 on 21 January. Thus, if she had reached Charleston "prior to 20 January" and had then been loaded as rapidly as in fact she was, there would have been time for installing ballast by 25 January. The Hamul and the Alchiba were given parallel orders but did not reach CHarleston until 23 January.18 Finally Op-23 urged the "very early arming of all our merchant marine's desirable passenger and cargo vessels."19

A more comprehensive survey of the hitches which developed in the BOBCAT operation was prepared in Op-39, drawing upon a report forwarded by ComFIVE as well as that of Op-23. It summarized the causes of the delay as:

  1. Setting the departure date without a complete check on prospective readiness for loading ... 2. Inability to have the vessels armed and otherwise converted as expeditiously as was expected. 3. Delays in loading ... 4. Finding equipment in poor condition ... 5. That some of the delay


    attributed to the calling away from their converting, loading, and dispatching duties various officers to converse by long distance phone with offices in Washington which were not directly concerned."

It made a number of recommendations several of which were a repetition of those of Op-23. The principal remaining onces were:

    (c) That in future expeditions, the time of sailing be set after liaison with Op-39, Op-23, and Bureaus concerned. (d) Naval Transportation Service select vessels to fix mission as to armament, speeds, nature of cargo, desired departure date. (f) Higher command set departure date ... (i) N.T.S. issue orders of selected vessels to loading point with as much factor of safety as practicable. (j) Each office concerned keep clear of all arrangements which are not specifically its cognizance.20

Most of these criticisms and recommendations were, in substance, little more than a suggestion that established procedures be strictly adhered to. The several divisions of Operations and the Bureaus each already had its designated duties, which it was expected to execute fully and expeditiously. In due course, all suitable merchant vessels would be armed. This particular deficiency was temporary. N.T.S., in fact, received a directive for this operation and, in compliance, selected the vessels and ordered them to the designated loading points. Undoubtedly, some hands meddled in business not their own. But the operation was of a new species and had to be carried out at maximum speed under most difficult circumstances. Without the frequent use of the telephone, the job could not have been done within the required time; BuDocks transacted almost all its business with Quonset by telephone and reduced its many oral instructions to a written directive


only on 26 January.21 The excessive use of the telephone is a national characteristic. Had it not been commonly employed, a charge of failure to coordinate would indubitably have arisen. There remains the criticism that the date of departure was set without adequate consultation with Op-39 and Op-23. Yet in the judgment of the highest command, the convoy must sail at the earliest moment. Thus, the basic plan had to be made firm before detailed plans were completed. On all levels, several planning agencies were required to act simultaneously rather than in sequence. The date originally set was in some measure a wishful guess. Later it was advanced two days and then restored as at first. It is difficult to believe that a better target could have been set or an earlier sailing achieved had the process of planning followed the systematic course suggested by Op-23 and Op-39. In short, the reports of those two divisions indicated desirable administrative procedures but no significant reforms.

In Washington, no one seems to have realized yet how seriously the defective loading and equipping of BOBCAT would obstruct the fulfillment of its mission. This search for shortcomings had uncovered trivialities. The deficiencies revealed later may not be dismissed lightly. But fairness does require an acknowledgement that, under the conditions of January 1942--the instructions for the Commanding Officer were issued unsigned because CominCh could not spare the time for signing them.22--the dispatch of the convoy only a month after


the site for the base had been selected as an achievement of considerable merit on the part of CNO.

Highly critical reports came in from the field. First to receive attention were errors in the second of the three categories already distinguished, errors in loading. Here there were two types of deficiency, those which delayed loading and those which made unloading almost impossible.

The loading of BOBCAT was the subject of a report made by the Officer-in-Charge, Naval Supply Depot, Norfolk, on the day the convoy sailed from Charleston. In substance, NSD, Norfolk, complained that it did not receive adequate information about materials sent to Norfolk and that efficient loading required the assembly and survey for weight and cube of all materials before any were actually loaded. With regard top information, the Supply Officer declared not only that often he was not informed that shipment had been made, but also that materials arrived with inaccurate, incomplete, or no identification of contents and ultimate destination. Much time was wasted, in consequence, either in telephoning to discover the essential facts, or in opening boxes to determine their contents. In one case, lack of information resulted in loading in the hold guns which were an intended part of the armament of the ship. "This necessitated the unloading of ... one carload of lumber and 60 tons of general stores which had been placed on top of these guns." The Supply Officer made a number of recommendations calculated to avoid a recurrence of these blunders. They dealt with matters of minor administrative procedure.


This report was submitted to BuSandA for comment and elicited a reply which maintained, in essence, that, had the established shipping instructions been observed by all parties and particularly by naval agencies not under its control, the mistakes would not have been made. BuSandA concurred fully with the recommendation that all material be assembled before loading began. "It is impossible to figure on paper how much or how nearly tonnage will fill in a ship. The cargo should be on hand, inspected and properly classified before loading is started. Only in this way can a reasonably satisfactory estimate of vessel space needed to arrived at and only in this way can proper loading and trim of ship be achieved." How inapplicable to operation BOBCAT, as it was conceived by CNO and CominCh, was BuSandA's recommendation is demonstrated by the next sentence. "It is apparent that cargo must be assembled, inspected, and estimated before a vessel is assigned to lift it ..." Had the procedure suggested by BusandA been followed for BOBCAT, Op-39 could not have begun even to select the vessels for the movement until the day on which the convoy in fact sailed from Charleston.23

Far more serious than the delay of two days in the sailing of the convoy was the failure to load the ships properly. IT has been noted already that Op-30's ancillary plans had directed that material be loaded so that unloading would be "in order of priority, lighterage, shore defense, fuel tanks, Army housing." Compliance with the superficially simple instruction was not an easy matter. The total cargo assigned to BOBCAT taxed the capacity of the ships which lifted it and


utilize to the full the limited space available inevitably led to some disregard of the priority in unloading, when those two requirements were incompatible. The difficulty was increased by the fact that loading took place at three ports and that time was lacking for complete reloading at Charleston. It was further magnified because, to give a specific example, much of the material in the first priority for unloading--lighterage--came from the BuDocks stockpile at Quonset, while that in the fourth priority--Army housing, i.e. tentage--largely originated at Charleston. The problem was complicated still further by the fact that some of the equipment, the 7" guns for example, was extremely heavy ad cumbersome, while such other items as patrol planes, which were loaded at Quonset, were necessarily deck load, irrespective of priority. Yet another complicating factor was the lack of information about the identity of some shipments, of which NSD, Norfolk complained. Finally, vital equipment continued to arrived on the dock right up to the time of sailing and had to be stowed in any available space In practice, the loading plan was inapplicable. Viewed in this light, BuSandA's contention that all cargo should be assembled, inspected, and classified prior to the assignment of the ship to lift it had great merit. Later, the Advance Base Depots and the forward staging points solved the problem of proper combat loading. In the case of BOBCAT, the necessity for speed and the lack of both facilities and experience resulted in deviations from Op-30's loading plan, which in turn produced chaotic conditions on Borabora.

The situation was well described in the reports of the officers


concerned. Commander Sanders wrote on 3 February: "As far as I can determine there was no orderly method fo loading on this vessel. As equipment arrived, it was loaded aboard in available space regardless of sequence of unloading at the other end ... The Bureau of Ordnance was the only bureau ... who sent a representative to the Yard to see that .. equipment got on board."24 Rear Admiral J.F. Shafroth, Commander, South East Pacific Force, report on 21 March:

4. It is vitally important that ships for an overseas expedition be loaded with great thought given to their unloading. Too much emphasis cannot be laid upon this .... Military priorities must control and the failure to load properly ... may easily result in the failure or loss of an expedition ... At an advance base the material must be unloaded by the vessel's equipment where no wharf or handling facilities exist. Hence it is of primary importance that the floating equipment on which the materials are to be load be placed at the top of the holds or on deck so that they can be assembled, hoisted overboard or made ready to move the cargo from ship to shore.

5. Convoy BAKER CAST 100 was unfortunately not so loaded. The pontoon barges which were the principal means by which the cargo could be moved from ship to shore were stored in various holds and often deep in those holds. One fifty-tone barge became available three days after the arrival of the convoy, the second six days after the arrival and the third and fourth, eight days after the arrival. The two 10-ton barges had not become available on 10 March. The 30-ton lighters fortunately saved the day, as they were stored on deck and were placed in the water by the evening of the day the convoy arrived ...

6. Tractors and trucks necessary for unloading the tank lighters and barges at the beach were fortunately stowed near the top of the holds, but tools necessary for clearing a camp site, tentage for housing personnel, galley equipment for the subsistence of men ashore only became available gradually.25

Although the HAMUL had only 5- and 10-ton booms, heavy lifts of tank lighters ... were assigned ... for loading. The TYLER was expected to take heavy guns and large pieces of equipment which her cargo booms and hatches would not handle. In most cases, ships manifests were incomplete and inaccurate. Material that was supposed to have been shipped had never been located and some material has been received which did not


appear on the manifests ... As a result of this situation, serious delays in receiving vital materials have occurred as steps could not be initiated to obtain missing items until all ships were unloaded and material checked.26

The effect of bad loading was succinctly stated by Commander Sanders, "I believe that we could have saved three to four weeks ... if the ships had been properly loaded ..."27

Productive of even greater delay in the fulfillment of the purpose for which BOBCAT was established were errors in planning. Faulty information about the nature of the terrain was a fundamental factor. To it may be attributed the selection of much ill-chosen equipment and the failure to foresee and to provide for certain necessary features in the plan of the base. Again, the reports of officers on the spot contain revealing descriptions of the situation.

The base BOBCAT was established on an island volcanic in origin with lofty peaks in the center ... from which the land sloped down to the water. Between some of the ridges, there were valleys containing a few acres of level of gently sloping ground [sic] ... At o place were these areas extensive as the land generally rose rather steeply within 50 or 100 yards from the coast line. Around the island and close to the coast line was a single road composed largely of coral, shell, and lava sand. The ground in which this road was laid was soft and spongy.28

The soil for the most part is a very plastic clay containing much black humus and little or no sand ... An extraordinary portion of available forces, time and effort has been spent in attempts to place a keep a few miles of road connecting the installations in passable condition.29

Preliminary written instructions indicated that an ample supply of water would be found here. However, such was not the case, and it was evident immediately upon arrival that rapid steps were mandatory to insure an adequate storage of water before the beginning of the dry season, in order to protect the personnel of the expedition from a serious water



Responsibility for the information, the misinformation, and the lack of information about BOBCAT upon which Op-30 and BuDocks acted rested with O.N.I. Its sources, however, were scanty and its shortcoming easily explained. The only available map was a mid-nineteenth century French publication. Not yet did planners have the benefit of the aerial, photographic reconnaissance which became routine for most subsequent operations [(although still inadequate for the August landings at Guadalcanal. --HyperWar)]. Not yet had OSS, ONI, and MIS had the staffs and the time to compile jointly all discoverable information about all spots where operations might take place. Only after the convoy had sailed did the Army uncover among its Washington staff a Second Lieutenant who had visited Borabora. He was ordered to fly to Panama to join the expedition, but his knowledge of Borabora would have been very much more valuable to the planners in Op-30 and BuDocks than to the staff at the base.

The unforeseen necessity to provide a water supply immediately after disembarkation at Borabora delayed until 2 April the start of construction of the fuel tanks for which the base was primarily established. Neither personnel nor equipment had been provided in sufficient quantity to carry out both jobs simultaneously.31 The terrain itself complicate the building of the tanks. It was necessary that "Areas ... for the Fuel Oil Depot (be) blasted out of almost solid rock." "The fuel tank location is on a very steep rocky hillside ... The soil encountered with the rock is a very plastic clay and is difficult


to handle when wet. In order to reduce the amount of excavation required ... the first tanks ... were not countersunk in the side hill. Some tanks were even partially set on side hill fill. This is a bad practice since ... heavy rains or a cloudburst ... may wash out fill material ..."32

Lack of information and consequent bad planning resulted in ill-adapted as well as inadequate equipment. Blunders of this mature might be catalogued at great length. A few illustrative examples suffice.

The so-called "Prime Movers" of the Army were 3-axle, 10-wheel trucks, which unloaded weigh seven tons. When first put on the roads they broke down the small bridges and culverts and tore up the roads to such a degree that it (was) necessary to bar them from the roads ... For all general uses ... a lighter truck would be of far more value ... Road building machinery was badly needed and should have been included ... There were no graders provided and they would have been of much value not only in road work but in leveling the aviation base and camp sites.33

In the early stages of unloading all material except that on wheels had to be manhandled at the landing end ... It is recommended that for similar expeditions all heavy equipment, in so far as possible, be put on wheels. Three weeks were required before the first crane could be located and mounted ashore. Up to that time all heavy material or equipment except that on wheels, had to be dragged off the barges on tractors.34

Of the equipment sent, the Chevrolet flat body and dump trucks were too light for the heavy rough service demanded of them and the majority of them are now broken down and idle awaiting repair parts, chiefly rear springs.

The 20-ton per hour rock crusher ... was of insufficient capacity ..."


The station or beach wagon is unsuitable for use at advance bases.

The truck cranes ... were unsuited for this base.
The larger tractors ... were second-hand and had no winches.
The following were not furnished in sufficient quantity:

(1) Dump Trucks   (7) Mauls, picks, saws, axes, shovels, spades, rakes.
(2) Tractors   (8) Wheel barrow wheels
(3) Tank lighters   (9) Drift pins
(4) Jack hammers   (10) Spare parts
(5) Water pumps   (11) Large dimension lumber
(6) Blasting machines   (12) Nails

Blacksmith forges were provided but no coke or other fuel for the forges was supplied.35

Granted the difficulties of the terrain and the inadequacies of the equipment, progress in constructing the base would have been slow even with properly trained and highly skilled personnel, Actually, the men were green.

The first Construction Battalion, consisting of eight (8) officers and two hundred and fifty (250) men, was hastily formed just prior to departure, to construct this Base, with the assistance of Army personnel and transportation. Seven of the officers and most of the enlisted personnel had ust been recently inducted into the Navy. Not only were they unfamiliar with Naval customs, procedure, administration, etc., but also to a large extent incompetent and insufficient in numbers to carry on and supervise the diversified projects which had to proceed simultaneously ... It has been a case of the blind trying to lead the blind ... A sufficient number of trained men should be available to operate all equipment furnished on a 24-hour basis. In addition and most important there should be a nucleus of highly trained men to supervise and direct each project contemplated.36

Finally, full identity of purpose did not exist between the Army and the Navy. Fundamentally, BOBCAT was a Naval Base defended by an Army unit. Because of the greater number of Army personnel and the


superior rank of the senior Army officer, local unity of command was given to Brigadier General Ostrom. Naturally, he was sympathetic to the requirements and problems of the men whom he commanded directly and for whom he was wholly responsible. By the terms of the Joint Plan, he had very vague responsibility for the Naval station and inevitably its needs did not receive the primary regard which was their theoretic due. Actually, the tasks set for the Navy by Plan was dependent upon the Army's furnishing much of the labor.

The construction of huts is last in priority on the schedule of work for this station. However, the construction of certain huts, for the storage of perishable Army supplies was started by order of the Commanding General, BOBCAT Force, on 10 March 1942 ... Approximately forty-seven per cent (47%) have been erected to date. This work has gained undesirable impetus, and is beginning to interfere with work on the Coast Defense Batteries and the Naval Air Station by placing demands upon men, tools, concrete mixers, and materials and on transportation facilities.

Limited numbers of Army personnel have been made available, and have been incorporated with the officers and enlisted men of the First Construction Battalion, U.S.N., into a combined engineering organization. However, quick and unannounced changes are made by the Commanding General in the assignment of Army officers, and non-commissioned officers and the other grades of enlisted men. This results in lack of continuity of work and great confusion ..."

Shortly after arrival at BOBCAT, written orders were issued by the Commanding General that Army work details would be varied daily to avoid placing heavy work on the same men. This policy worked havoc on the Engineer Force. It was impossible for the small number of Civil Engineer Corps officers and enlisted men to train a new crew of men on every job every day. This situation has been alleviated ... However, 65% to 85% of any work group may be found changed form day to day. This situation was not anticipated under the Joint Plans.37

Further narration of the difficulties which plagued BOBCAT is not necessary. Slowly they were all surmounted. The first fueling


was smoothly carried out in July. By chance, this event coincided with the visit of a special inspection board for the various advance bases now established in the South Pacific. Its findings, signed by the Senior Member, Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, were not unduly severe.38 Beginning as of 1 July, monthly progress reports were submitted to CominCh.39 They show that b y the early autumn most of the facilities were complete. The job had been done. If its completion was far slower than had been desired and required the dispatch of much extra equipment and personnel, the task had turned out to be much greater than was expected.

In the late suer, the fuller potentialities of BOBCAT began to emerge. The Army requested the Navy's aid in the construction there of an air depot to which parts of fighter planes might be shipped for assembly. CominCh was reluctant to invest materials and labor in a facility which, it was already apparent, would be left progressively farther behind the zone of combat operations.40

What summary judgment does operation BOBCAT warrant? In December 1941, the Japanese throat to the life line to New Zealand appeared to be tremendous and defensive measures to be imperative. A base at Borabora might be a decisive asset. Its denial to the enemy was essential. If its construction had been as rapid as was the dispatch of the convoy from the United States, it would, in fact, have been in effective operation when the critical battles were fought at the Coral Sea and Midway. The considerations which inspired BOBCAT are not open to question.


The implementation of the strategic decision is less easily justified. It is undeniable that there were very serious failures in planning in Washington and in execution in the field particularly in loading. They stemmed from deficient information, preparation, and experience. Yet the preliminary studies could hardly have drawn upon sources of intelligence still undeveloped. Just why the O.N.I. file on Borabora was so sadly deficient is a question which lies outside the limits of the present study but deserves serious attention. The costly failure to carry out the loading schedules which the plans prescribed has been explained if it cannot be excused. The faulty selection of equipment derived in part from ignorance of conditions on Borabora, in part from the fact that the only material available had been designed for use, not on a primitive South Pacific island but in such a settled area as the United Kingdom. Lack of information and experience resulted in a grave misconception of the dimensions of the task to be accomplished and this in turn to a wholly inadequate allowance of material and personnel. Lack of proper equipment led to the selection, for instance, of the 7" naval guns which were so little mobile that their installation was a major construction job in itself, which seriously delayed the completion of the fueling facilities. Likewise, trained Construction Battalions simply did not exist. Even slight experience would have shown the impossibility of operating an advance base with four officers and fifty-nine rated men assigned in the first personnel plan. Nevertheless, strategic consideration dictated the immediate dispatch of the expedition with the most nearly


competent personnel and equipment on hand. They explain also the decision to undertake a joint Army-Navy operation, a notoriously difficult task, and indeed, the first American operation of this type since the Spanish-America War. BOBCAT played its part in the development of easy and intimate coordination between the Army and the Navy. It also reflected the failure of the nation, much more than of the Army and the Navy, to prepare for the war.

In the fine operation, BOBCAT fell far short of fulfilling the desires of its planners. Yet it was an excellent training school for advance base movements and the enemy were not able to occupy Borabora. The smooth and efficient performance at Guam in 1944 owed much to the bungling of 1942. And BOBCAT was not a disaster. The really essential materials were supplied originally and maintained subsequently. If Spam appeared on the menu with distressing frequency, no one starved.


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Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation