Combat Logistics History

The idea of taking supplies to ships at sea and handling them across the water was new to the Navy at the turn of the century. Sailing ships had been able to stay where the action was for weeks or months; sea breezes provided the power, Sailor's diets were less complex, and round shot was more easily stocked than bombs and missiles.

The US Navy began to show some interest in logistics in 1888, when Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan introduced both the term and the concept to naval strategy in a lecture at the Naval War College. A subsequent lecture that year by another officer focused more directly on naval logistics, while still others, in articles and essays, soon began to stress the need for a system of bases for fleet support and to examine the economic foundations of naval power. Mahan himself asserted that logistics -- although he actually used the word infrequently -- dominated warfare. Good supply lines, fixed and floating bases, and adequate stocks of fuel were essential for the projection of seapower.

The idea of supplying under way ships at sea emerged as sail gave way to steam, and the steamship with its huge appetite for coal. The large men-of-war burned 50 tons of coal a day, and to keep their bunkers full, had to return to port every 10 days or so to re-coal. The first practicable plans for coaling vessels at sea were put forward by two Royal Navy officers -- Lidger & Miller -- in 1887. The method most favored by the British Admiralty involved a cableway running from the collier, which was under tow, to the warship.

The Navy learned a lesson in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. The Spanish Fleet was blockaded in the Harbor of Santiago, Cuba. When the Spanish made a run for the open sea, three of our ships (including the old battleship MASSACHUSETTS) were 45 miles away being re-coaled at Guantanamo. The need for on-station at-sea refueling was obvious. Early efforts to solve the problem led to the development of a high-line for carrying bags of coal from a coaler to a warship, one in the wake of the other. World War One saw the beginning of the Navy's conversion to oil- burning ships, and soon the colliers were out of business.

The United States Navy was the first to carry out under-way coaling experiments in 1899. The first significant underway replenishment (UNREP) operation at sea was with the collier USS Marcellus and the Navy warship USS Massachusetts in 1899. The initial British trials of the "Lidger-Miller" system were conducted in 1902. These involved the collier MURIEL and the battleship TRAFALGAR. The collier was towed by the battleship at a speed between 8 and 9.5 knots, with 30 tons of coal an hour being passed between the ships [coaling in port at rest could achieve rates nearly ten times this fast].

The "Great White Fleet" sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909 consisted of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet. The battleships were painted white except for gilded scrollwork on their bows. The Atlantic Fleet battleships only later came to be known as the "Great White Fleet." The fourteen-month long voyage was a grand pageant of American sea power. The squadrons were manned by 14,000 sailors. They covered some 43,000 miles and made twenty port calls on six continents.

The battleships were accompanied during their voyage by several auxiliary ships. USS Culgoa (storeship, Hampton Roads to Manila) USS Glacier (storeship), USS Panther (repair ship), USS Yankton (tender), and USS Relief (hospital ship). The fleet arrived at Suez, Egypt, on 3 January 1909. In Egypt, word was received of an earthquake in Sicily, thus affording an opportunity for the United States to show it's friendship to Italy by offering aid to the sufferers. The Connecticut, Illinois, Culgoa and Yankton were dispatched to Messina at once. The crew of the Illinois recovered the bodies of the American consul and his wife, entombed in the ruins. The Scorpion, the Fleet's station ship at Constantinople, and the Celtic, a refrigerator ship fitted out in New York, were hurried to Messina, relieving the Connecticut and Illinois, so that they could continue on the cruise.

The auxiliaries did not include colliers (coal supply ship). Coal, commonly referred as "black diamonds," were the ship's sole source of power. Ships would normally go into port and take on coal every two weeks. "Coaling ship" was an all hands evolution and a dirty job. It would take several days to coal a ship. All the deckhands would go down into the collier and fill these big bags with about 500 pounds. Then they'd hoist theem over to those down in the coal bunkers, who would spread out the coal with shovels until all the bunkers were full to the top. Afterward, the crew would spend several more days cleaning the ship, inside and out, fore and aft, since coal dust settled everywhere.

The cruise provided the officers and men of the fleet with thorough at-sea training and brought about improvements in formation steaming, coal economy, gunnery and morale. It also stressed the need for overseas bases that could provide better coaling and supply services along with more auxiliary ships. Foreign coaling ships or ports were used 90 percent of the time for coaling and resupply.

Combat Logistics Between the Wars

Navy Secretary Edwin Denby, under President Harding, had created a Battle Force, a Base Force, a Control Force, and a Scouting Force. The Battle Force included the Navy's battle line and carriers; the Control Force, cruisers and destroyers; the Base Force, a logistic train of colliers, oilers, and cargo vessels. In 1923 fleet maneuvers, the cruiser Omaha was refueled by employing an abreast technique. However tentative, the Base Force was exploring the concept of underway replenishment.

In 1937 British experiments led to the derrick method of abeam refuelling. The tanker and warship steer parallel courses, with refuelling carried out by means of a three and half inch bronze fuelling pipe supported by a light steel line carried by a derrick sited in the waist of the tanker. One of the principal problems in abeam refuelling was the suction effect caused by the interaction of the bow waves of the two vessels. This caused the vessels to be drawn together.

In 1942 two German tankers, whose task was to replenish the battleship Bismarck, were captured with all their equipment. These were closely studied and the Admiralty was greatly impressed, especially by the use of rubber hoses which were found to be vastly superior to the bronze hoses the British had used until that time. However, due to the shortage of materials, the changeover could not be undertaken immediately.

Combat Logistics in World War II

It took the pressure of the Second World War in the Pacific, which reached into the far corners of that ocean, to make Underway Replenishment (UNREP) a regular feature of Naval Operations. The war in the Pacific made new demands on the Navy -- supply lines had to be extended, quickly, in order to project power across the oceans and keep it there.

The Navy had by the time of World War II developed a system of underway replenishment for its fleet units. World War II was a war of logistics. It was a war of distances, advance bases, and was a strategy driven and constrained by logistics. This was particularly true in the Pacific Theater for both the United States and Japan. World War II in the Pacific was essentially a maritime war. It was on the sea that Japan depended for materials to sustain her; via the sea she launched her aggressions, and the first attack was intended to destroy the nucleus of the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The vital core of the American military effort was the contest for control of the seas, from which all the other operations-at sea, amphibious, on land, or in the air- branched and received their support.

"Underway replenishment was the U.S. Navy's secret weapon of World War II" according to Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. New concepts and techniques in mobile logistic support and underway replenishment made a high tempo of sustained operations possible. U.S. submarines took a heavy toll of Japan's warships and devastated the merchant marine, thereby servering her lifeline.

Whereas some of the key challenges in the South Pacific had initially been long steaming distances and establishing advance bases as a defensive perimeter for fleet support, and from which to stage subsequent assault operations, the problem with the Central Pacific was that there were no potential locations for advance bases between Pearl Harbor and the Islands to be taken, the Gilberts, Marshalls, and Carolines. The answer was a mobile logistics base--a floating base. Under the able direction of Vice Admiral Calhoun, Commander Service Force Pacific Fleet, Service Squadron 4 was created and commissioned on 01 November 1943, just before the Marshall Islands operations commenced. Bernard Brodie called the Service Squadron a "strategic surprise" to the Japanese.

By 1943 the Fast Carrier Task Force, Pacific Fleet, was supported by the Service Squadron, Pacific Fleet, a mobile logistics and underway replenishment force that accelerated the fleet's westward move to the Gilberts, Marshalls, Marianas, Peliliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa. The mobile logistics base consisted of repair ships, tugs, mine sweepers, concrete fuel barges, barges loaded with general stores, and ammunition lighters. During the Campaign against the Gilberts, fleet oilers were able to operate unescorted outside the range of Japanese aircraft and provide service to the fleet. When the Marshalls campaign began, they had to be escorted. Within eleven months, the US fleet raced 4,200 miles across the central Pacific, employing Fast Carrier Task Force, Army- Marine amphibious forces, and a fleet train of 2,930 auxiliaries.

Combat Logistics in Korea

When the Korean War began in June 1950, underway replenishment of combat ships was, though not a lost art, very hard to come by in the western Pacific. Responsibility for the logistic support of the Pacific Fleet and of other Pacific naval activities lay with the Service Force Pacific Fleet. A severe local shortage of auxiliaries suitable for this demanding logistics task meant that warships had to retire to ports in Japan whenever they needed fresh supplies of ammunition and provisions. In an intense combat environment, that was every few days. The time spent in transit to and from port was time not available for combat operations, clearly a wasteful situation and one that was painfully troublesome in the difficult weeks of July and August 1950.

The emphasis on floating support for fleet units, made necessary by the limited base facilities in the Western Pacific, was desirable for other reasons as well. A prime virtue of naval power is its mobility; if the bases can also move this virtue is increased. For reasons of economy, and to obviate the need for an extensive shore establishment in Japan which would itself be logistically costly and complicating, mobile support was also desirable. But complete floating support for the fleet was well beyond the capabilities of the Service Force as then constituted, or indeed under any circumstances short of pretty complete mobilization. Again it is worth emphasizing how fortunate it was for this campaign that the resources and productive facilities of the Japanese base were close to hand. In the Second World War almost complete support for forces overseas had been provided from the continental United States. But now at midcentury the effort was made to live off the land, and the foraging party reappeared, not in the form of the sergeant with his squad, but in that of the supply officer armed with contract and fountain pen.

Fortunately, the necessary auxiliary ships -- oilers, ammunition ships and reefers -- were soon on their way across the Pacific to the war zone. By Autumn 1950, replenishment at sea was again the routine undertaking that it had been during the great Pacific war just a half-decade earlier. Coupled with the sufficiency in numbers of carriers and gun ships, that meant that ships could replenish every few days while staying near the Korean coast, and thus would still be available to apply their firepower on short notice.

As the Korean War settled into a "routine" during 1951, the resupply of Navy ships at sea continued in the pattern established during the latter part of 1950. Task Force 77 and other warships in the Sea of Japan were replenished by a regularly-maintained force of two tankers, one or two ammunition ships, plus such other supply ships as were needed. Navy ships in the Yellow Sea were supported by logistics ships sent out on an individual basis.

The supply requirements of intense air and gunfire bombardment, compounded by the demands of fuel-hungry jet aircraft, ensured that these logistics ships were kept very busy shuttling between the operating forces and rear-area ports. As the war continued, the efficiency of underway replenishment improved as much as an evolving "state of the art" allowed. Night-time resupply, previously seen as unacceptably dangerous, became routine, allowing ships to work almost around-the-clock, flying and shooting during the day and replenishing fuel and ammunition after dark -- a very punishing pace for crews, but one that could be sustained during a military crisis.

This vigorous logistics experience had a great impact on the post-Korean War Navy. New logistics ships were built, and existing hulls modernized to increase capacity. These incorporated greatly improved supply-handling gear and made possible multi-product transfers during an single period alongside.

The problems of underway replenishment and of accelerated consumption of fuel and ammunition led to experimental work with an ex-German U-boat supply ship to test the theory of one-stop replenishment, and to planning for a composite type which would carry ammunition, petroleum products, and miscellaneous cargo as well. But this development would take time, and more immediate help came from the construction of six new 20-knot fleet oilers, 100 feet longer than any previously available, of which the first was launched in late 1953, and from the five new ammunition ships of the Suribachi class, built from the hull up for this purpose, and providing higher speed, new methods of storage, and new and faster handling machinery.

Combat Logistics in Vietnam

In 1964, as the war in Vietnam expanded, Subic Bay became the focal point of Rainier's 7th Fleet support activities. There when the Tonkin Gulf crisis occurred, 4-5 August, she put to sea immediately and steamed to the gulf to rearm carriers conducting strikes on North Vietnamese bases. For the next months, Rainier operated between Subic Bay and replenishment areas off Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the geographical limitations of the war caused the United States to supply the troops on a scale never before realized in modern warfare. Improved communications, automatic data processing equipment (ADPE), and increased use of aircraft for resupply made the difference. Supply shortages occurred but they were the result of production stoppages, lack of centralized control of assets, lack of supply discipline in the field, lack of trained supply personnel at organizational and field level, and poor logistics planning and programing.

Underway replenishment became a way of life for ships on Market Time by 1967. Navy supply ships bringing fuel, ammunition, food, mail and personnel sail up and down the Vietnamese coast by day and night. The cutter pulls alongside about 100 to 120 feet from the ship and the cargo is passed via highline while the ships maintain constant speed. At times the supply ships are passing provisions to two ships at once; one on either side.

By 1968, almost one-half of the combat missions flown over North Vietnam were from the decks of carriers. Carrier-based strikes were also conducted regularly over South Vietnam in support of ground-based and air combat missions (both strategic and tactical "surgical strikes"). The major surface combatants rotated in and out of the carrier task groups to other assignments such as gunfire support (shore bombardment) and escort of the underway replenishment groups (URG). The carrier task groups (CTG) always remained about the same size, but the identity of the surface combatants in the group was constantly changing.

Carrier operations in the northern gulf were conducted from the vicinity of a geographic reference point Y, called "Point Yankee," so called because Y is "Yankee" in the phonetic alphabet. Carrier assignment to SPECOPS in the northern gulf came to be known as "Yankee Station." Operations in the southern Gulf of Tonkin into South Vietnam were conducted from an area referenced to a grid lock point, "Point Dixie," so that carriers conducting the air war in the South were termed at "Dixie Station."

Normally three carriers were at Yankee Station at all times, each conducting air operations for twelve hours, and then repairing, replenishing, and doing maintenance for the next twelve hours. One carrier operated from noon until midnight, the second from midnight until noon and the third covering the daylight hours. This meant that targets were covered twenty-four hours a day, and the heaviest effort was during daylight hours when tactical air was most accurate and effective.

Although the carriers went into the naval base at Subic after almost every period on the line, this was mainly for ship repairs, the off-loading of dud aircraft (those which had received battle damage and were unable to be flown off), and crew R&R. More than 99 percent of all other logistical support ammunition, ship and aircraft fuel, food, and general supplies was delivered to the carriers from logistics support ships during underway replenishment at sea.

In turn, most of those underway replenishment ships were loaded out in U.S. ports. The ammunition ships (AE) would load out at the depot in Concord, California, and then transit to the Gulf of Tonkin. The AE would transfer ammunition to the carriers several times a day for a month or so until their holds were empty. Then they would go to a U.S. depot for another load of ammunition. The same routine applied to the general stores ships, which delivered fresh vegetables to the crews directly from California farms. The oilers carried both aviation fuel (JP-5) and ship's fuel. Although much of this came from the Continental United States, some was also picked up from U.S. petroleum, oil, and lubricant (POL) stocks at storage sites in the Pacific where it had been delivered by commercial tankers.

The underway replenishment groups, known as URGs, operated as task groups in the Gulf of Tonkin and consisted of an ammunition ship, a fleet oiler, and one or more store ships which carried a variety of consumables. Each carrier replenished virtually every twenty-four hours from at least one of the ships in the URG: from an oiler to top-off ship and aviation fuel, from an ammunition ship to fill the magazines, and from a store ship to take on food or replacement parts. By this system of constant replenishment, the carriers did not wait for their fuel bunkers or magazines to become low or empty. They were kept topped-off so that the ship always had about ten days supply of fuel and ammo n the event logistics support was interrupted, or so the carriers could be sent on an unsupported mission immediately without taking time to load out.

Combat Logistics Post-Cold War

During the two decades of the Cold War that followed Vietnam and preceded the 1990-91 crisis with Iraq, the Navy developed a logistic support system that enabled its own combat forces to remain continuously deployed in waters far from the United States. Forward naval bases in the Western Pacific, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean were important to this global establishment. The fleet, however, was not tied to shore bases, as it demonstrated during 1980s operations in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. A contingent of mobile logistic ships provided combatants, via underway replenishment, with the wherewithal to fight and remain on the line.

When DESERT SHIELD began in August 1990, the top logistics priority was to ensure Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, North Arabian Sea and Eastern Mediterranean were ready for battle at a moment's notice. Additionally, ships making preparations for deployment from their U.S. homeports had tobe stocked with all the goods and hardware they (and their embarked Marines and airwings in the case of amphibious ships and aircraft carriers) would need to carry the fight to Iraq, half a world away.

Naval Supply Center (NSC), Norfolk, for example, was flooded with requests from ships gearing up for deployment. Dozens of Norfolk-based ships were scheduled for short notice deployment. The USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) battle group had to accomplish the normally 30-day process of locating and storing the supplies necessary for a six month deployment in just four days.

John F. Kennedy alone requested some 700 pallets of food. By the time she departed, in company with her escorts, NSC Norfolk had provided the group with 2 million fresh eggs, 185,000 pounds of hot dogs, 250,000 pounds of chicken and 400,000 pounds of hamburger. During the first two weeks of August 1990, NSC's fuels division delivered 525,000 barrels of fuel oil to departing ships and squadrons-- more than twice the normal amount -- forcing the center to dip into its reserve supply. NSC did one month of normal business ($1 million) in two days during its furious effort to supply deploying ships and aircraft.

DESERT SHIELD/STORM presented a major logistics challenge: coordinating the movement of a huge volume of supplies and equipment in the smoothest, most expeditious manner. The Naval Logistic Support Force (NAVLOGSUPFOR) was established specifically to meet the DESERT SHIELD logistic challenge and relieve operational commanders afloat and ashore from much of logistics management burden.

Keeping up to 115 combatant ships battle ready was a full-time job. Most resupply operations were carried out at sea by combat logistic force (CLF) ships, who were in turn supplied through expeditionary forward logistics sites. The CLF ships deployed during DESERT SHIELD/STORM, along with various Military Sealift Command and Ready Reserve Force ships, had the monumental task of supplying six carriers, two battleships, two command ships, two hospital ships, 31 amphibious ships and 40 other combatants induding cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines and minesweepers.

Central Command (CENTCOM) had been building its plan for taking down Iraq for well over a year by the time war kicked off on 20 March 2003. The Military Sealift Command (MSC) managed the Combat Logistics Force (CLF), providing fuel, food, ammunition, spare parts, and other supplies to combatant ships. These ships provided underway replenishment to battle forces in order to sustain combat readiness without frequent port visits. Two hospital ships were deployed to the theater. Historically, the flow of supplies tended to move from reception areas?seaports and airfields?into holding areas for distribution to the separate chains of supply that fed the service components conducting tactical operations. This was less the case with regard to naval forces, where the flow of logistics via the underway replenishment system moved directly to the naval forces at sea. But here, too, naval forces drew supply from theater stockpiles.

By July 2003, four of the 16 Navy fleet at sea underway replenishment ships normally operating in the MSC Atlantic region are still supporting OIF. The staff at MSC Europe, headquartered in Naples, Italy, and 36 reservists worked around-the-clock in the European region facilitating the flow of 124 MSC ships supporting OIF.

The USS Constellation (CV 64) Carrier Strike Group (CSG) returned to San Diego 02 June 2003, following a successful seven-month deployment in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch. Rainier, the Constellation CSG's resupply and refueling ship, played an integral role. Rainier, homeported in Bremerton, Wash., is a fast combat support ship, which conducted more than 240 Underway Replenishment (UNREP) operations, besting the ship's earlier UNREP record of 178, and enabling ships to remain on station longer without having to pull into port for supplies. While Rainier usually provides for about 24 ships during a six-month deployment, during OIF, Rainier provided for 64 ships, completing up to six UNREP evolutions per day. Rainier received and issued more than 135 million gallons of fuel and 25,000 pallets (15,000 tons) of material that included mail, dry goods, food and 10 million pounds of ordnance to the CSG and coalition forces. The embarked helicopter detachment from Helicopter Support Squadron (HC) 11 contributed to move 9,000 tons of material via Vertical Replenishment.



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list