Background on the Army Transport Service (ATS) the "Army's Navy"
THE ability to quickly move an army under
modern conditions is probably as important a factor in the success of a campaign
as valor and fighting efficiency, while to attempt movements of large masses of
troops by foot or by horses over great distances has been proved by recent wars
to be no longer satisfactory. Today the motor truck, the passenger and freight
car, and the ocean steamship transport have come into the picture, and each
offers advantages for quick troop transfers which would have been totally
impossible under former conditions.
The problem of sea transport of troops is
not new; in fact, it is as old as war itself. But while the transfer of armies
by sea in the past has often received meagre attention from great commanders,
owing to the inadequacy of ships and fittings suitable for soldier transport,
now with high-powered and speedy ships, the trained strategist is turning more
and more to water transportation.
The American soldier by reason of his
environment probably feels that his duty will normally be to fight on land, on
United States soil or on this continent; but our two most recent wars, Spanish
and World Wars, have shown that the American soldier may be compelled to fight
far across seas. Hence, as the law and appropriation acts provide that the
"Transportation of the Army and its Supplies" shall be done by the
Quartermaster Corps therefore in the past thirty years the Quartermaster Corps
has been required to develop what might approximately be termed "The Army's
Navy". This is not, however, a fighting navy, but a transport fleet,
capable of handling thousands of men as military passengers.
Thus, the Quartermaster Corps transported a third of a million men in the
Spanish-American War and over two million men in the World War, which is no
mean record for a military fleet, controlled and operated entirely by the Army.
CALLS MADE UPON TRANSPORT SERVICE
"Let George do it" has often been
the slogan bandied back to the ships of the Army after commercial lines, or
Government vessels, have pleaded their unsuitability for any rare type of sea
transportation which might be necessary in an emergency requiring a special ship
for a special service. The reason is apparent-the War Department's vessels are
always ready, in commission as it were, and prepared to step into their groove
as a ferryboat across either the Pacific or the Atlantic, with special trips to
any strange port if military needs require.
As some of the special occasions when the
Army Transport Service has been called upon for peculiar or strange duties, and
which often have been far afield from any military significance, the following
instances might be mentioned. From
these one might feel that the nation should be pleased that it has in its
possession an active fleet, capable of responding to instant call for any
transportation duty overseas, whether that duty be military, humanitarian, or
for the public welfare.
When our Uncle Sam decided that salvos from
Gatlings were not civilizing the ex-insurrectos of the Philippines in 1901 as
rapidly as desired, he thereupon concluded that "readin', writin' and 'rithmetic,
played to the tune of a hickory stick" could accomplish the trick.
Whereupon, trainloads of schoolmasters and school ma'ams were rushed
across our broad continent to San Francisco with orders in their pockets for
transportation overseas on an Army transport. These "hickory
stickers", of course, were to travel as soldiers. "Orders from
Washington" are law to the General Superintendent of Transportation at San
Francisco, and it was his problem to accommodate on transports these collections
of pedagogues. The school ma’ams, of course, were given the first cabin
staterooms, while the schoolmasters were berthed in soldiers' bunks, "three
high". No complaints, however, were forthcoming, as they felt the honor of
being the nation's representatives in leading ambitious Filipinos from their
hazy dialects of Tagalog and Vissyan as well as bad Spanish, into the world's
well known simplicity and beauty of American English. Soldiers on the
"Frisco" transport piers were agape when the first teacher transport
left the docks. There were no military bands, no presenting of arms, no
uniforms, no punctilious "military starch" of any kind.
These scholastics promptly took charge of their own celebration, and no
respect for authority could drive them from the sacred precincts reserved for
the showy performance of the crews' maritime duties, such as the bridge, the
lookout's walk, the life boats, or even the rigging. There was also noted as an
unwonted augury of what was to follow, many couples standing aloof on the deck
more interested in covert glances from bright eyes than the an revoirs from
shore-an epidemic resulting from transcontinental Pullman acquaintanceship to
which even soldiers have been known to succumb under similar environment.
University and normal college songs, interspersed with college yells,
prevented any moping or weeping upon leaving the United States' shores.
The effect of tropical seas, moonlit nights,
sleepy steamer chairs, the sighting of coral beaches and strange birds of
plumage was not unforeseen when upon arrival at Honolulu eleven couples
immediately sought a Hawaiian divine to celebrate the bonds of matrimony.
At Manila twenty more couples likewise committed matrimony. All these
teachers had carefully looked over and studied their contracts, their civil
service rules, their transportation slips and other documents but could find
nothing to even discourage such a step. Thus, three or four shiploads of these
good young Americans started in to educate the native Filipino.
Evidently they made an impression, for with the exception of scattering
individuals, such teachers have no longer been sent overseas.
BRIDES TO AMERICA
Brides and Army transports were again in the
foreground following the recent war (transports seem to foster romances), when
it was found that some hundreds of our fighting Americans had married French and
Belgian damoselles, while other lads favored English, Italian, or German girls.
The laws of war are silent on such alliances, but International Law declares
that these brides of American doughboys are henceforth daughters of Uncle Sam.
Therefore to America they must come to make their homes with their soldier
husbands. A simple and logical statement, but how to get all these
ladies here was a problem of a different nature.
The idea then occurs to bring them to the land of the free and the home
of the brave on Army transports devoted solely to the purpose of this feminine
transportation. Entire ship loads of the fair sex have never heretofore been
seen on ocean transports. Some
seven of such special excursions had to be made to and from France to bring
these soldiers' wives to their new American homes.
The ships' navigation officers state that no
world trips ever equaled these. The
inspecting officers might as well have taken a vacation on every such trip, for
from the Master on the bridge to the engineer's last assistant, all were
constantly in their best uniforms with a fresh shave and white gloves, even to
the engine room. Transport seaman daily busied themselves with hot water and
gasoline removing grease spots from their uniforms.
Ladies were everywhere on deck and even in the boiler room, for to them
there was no such phrase as "strength verboten". Enginemen and firemen
begged and borrowed cavalrymen's gauntlets from the sales room and these
gauntlets were daily inspected for any semblance of oil. The obsolete shoe shine
parlor at once sprang into being for the ship's staff, while the ship's barber
was so swamped with work that he only accepted customers by appointment two days
There were so many of these fair passengers
that cabin accommodations could not be provided for all, so down into spaces
originally marked for troops, into troop berths "three high" the
overflow of passengers were placed. The medley of voices drifting up through the companionways
from these compartments led the man on deck duty to doubt that "all's well
One of these transports was routed to the
harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, which city to this day talks of the
welcome staged for these newcomer wives of southern soldiers, and how they were
welcomed with all the warmth of southern hospitality.
The southern soldier husbands were of course all on hand at the dock to
welcome them. Such a scene of "present arms" has never yet been
equaled in any military maneuver on land or sea.
Shortly after the Spanish War, when the
Klondike mining craze was still at its height, for all gold diggers were not
then in Broadway cabarets, a sudden slump occurred in the placers of the Yukon
and beach at Nome. A thousand miners and soldiers of fortune were caught in the
advancing Arctic Alaskan winter with no hope of ships, nor means for getting
away before the inhospitable season set in.
Washington heard and noted their appeal. Vessels of all kinds, commercial
and naval, were sought to help these miners out of their predicament. But no
such vessels were quickly available, hence again "George" was called
upon. Orders went out to The
Quartermaster General to at once send one or more ships to Alaska to get these
stranded miners before they were frozen in for the Winter.
An Army transport was soon steaming for the North, and all of these
miners thus marooned who desired to return to the States were put aboard.
Here, once more, the duty was not military, but a performance of hard
seagoing regime that reflected credit on all those of the Army who participated.
ROLES OF THE TRANSPORT SERVICE
Immediately after the Spanish-American War,
it became evident that Uncle Sam's new possession of Porto Rico was completely
isolated from the American mainland, as there was no traffic by sea of any kind,
the Spanish steamship lines having incontinently withdrawn when the Spanish
troops returned to Spain. Something had to be done and that quickly to maintain
the business and governmental intercourse with this fertile island.
Here again it was not strictly a military need, yet, as the Army vessels
were suitable and in commission, they were at once put to work to maintain the
needs of the Porto Ricans. The wholesome result of this steamship enterprise on
the part of the Government was to make it evident that a profitable commercial
steamship corporation could be formed on the basis of the business which the U.
S. Army Transports had turned up, where no such business heretofore existed.
The New York & Porto Rico Steamship Company was organized and took
over this traffic developed by the War Department, and has since continued in
the operation of a steamship line without a break for thirty years, and with
signal financial profit to the corporation. The transports were removed from the
route as soon as it was evident that the new company could handle all the
traffic. This case might also be mentioned as an instance where the Government
does not seek to break down private enterprise, but pioneers for it, and after
proving the; feasibility of a project, turns it over to private commercial
operators for its permanent growth and profit.
Two "Cuban Pacification Campaigns"
came on in the peace period between the Spanish-American and World Wars.
These good neighbors whom Uncle Sam has brought into a national existence
became restive under their newfound liberties and decided upon drastic political
upheavals. American authorities however firmly said "No mas", and
immediately backed up their demand for Cuban peace; by the presence in Habana
harbor of U. S. Transports with troops loaded to the gunwales, before the Cubans
fairly understood what it was all about. The transports in due time returned
with the admonition that the Cubans settle their bickerings at; the ballot box
and not by bullets. Thus the country is still Cuba Libre to its peaceful and
American refugees had to be extricated from
the east coast of Mexico during certain political upheavals in the course of her
progress toward more perfect liberty. Two sudden trips of Army transports were
made from San Francisco to quickly take on board these Americans before Mexican
indedencies considered their presence inimical to the advance of the particular
nationalistic cause which their faction temporarily advocated.
The service of transporting supplies and
personnel the military posts of Alaska was maintained by the transport service
right up to the conclusion of the World War, since which time adequate
commercial seamship enterprise has developed so that the War department no
longer has to operate vessels for that purpose.
In connection with the work of the Alaskan Army transports, which were
maintained for twenty years, there was also developed the only river transport
service which the Army ever had. A
group of three shallow-draft passenger and freight transports operated up and
down the Yukon River, and it is interesting to note that these river craft
maintained a greater annual mileage than any other craft belonging to the Army,
with the exception of the deep-sea transports.
These vessels have since the War been turned over to the Department of
Interior, which now operates them on practically a commercial basis.
Upon the completion of the Alaskan Railway by the Interior Department,
just before the late war, it became the lot of the Army transports to carry
complete railway passenger coaches as a deck load, while locomotives were stowed
in the ships' holds.
Another interesting development of Alaskan
military needs has been the supply and maintenance by the Quartermaster Corps of
an Army Transport as a deep-sea cable-laying ship. The first such cable-ship,
the U. S. Army Transport "Burnside" was a former prize ship of the
Spanish War, and recently has been replaced by a larger ship from the U. S.
Shipping Board named the "Dellwood". This transport is in reality a
high-grade laboratory and deep-sea cable layer, under the control and operation
of the U. S. Army Signal Corps.
The "Dellwood" not only has laid
the new Alaskan cable, but has maintained it in the best of telegraphic
condition. She is now engaged in a remarkable round the world tour as an
incident to her temporary transfer to the U. S. Philippine Administration. The
vessel left its home station at Seattle and proceeded through the Panama Canal
to England, where it took on, in its huge cable tanks, sufficient cable for the
needs of the Philippine cable requirements.
to Algiers, thence to and through the Suez Canal to India, Singapore, and
Manila. The vessel has completed
the Philippine cable laying duty, and returned across the Pacific to its home
station at Seattle, having circumnavigated the world.
This vessel is also of interest in that it
was the first cable layer to be equipped with the sonic depth sounder, which
determines ocean depths, while the vessel is at full speed, and without the
clumsy resourse to throwing over a "lead line".
Hence it was that the vessel was able to make exploratory sounding and
avoided submarine mountains and chasms with a very gratifying reduction in cable
mileage which would be otherwise required.
On the late voyage mentioned, the "Dellwood" was further
provided with the newer development of depth sounder-the "Fathometer",
an unusual instrument which records the ocean depth on a clockwise dial when the
vessel is at full speed.
IN THE SIBERIAN CAMPAIGN
The restoration of refugees to their home
land has been, as shown, more than a single occurrence but probably the most
noted example has been the transferring back to Europe of the refugees of the
expatriated Czecho-Slovakian troops form Vladivostock in Asia. These Czecho-Slovakians
were originally the allies of the Russian Empire, and when the Empire tottered
to its doom, these troops were found in Eastern Russian or Caucasian regions.
They then retired in good form to the Siberian Railway, which had not yet become
a part of the Soviet property, and thus in easy stages transferred themselves
across the vast railway miles of the whole of Siberia.
Such non-Russian troops thus arrived at the far Eastern confines of Asia
at Vladivostock in units fairly compact. Russia
in the meantime was daily becoming more and more disintegrated. First the
Kerensky government succeeded in a military way to the Empire, and as the
Kerensky administration became more feeble, the seizure
of military power by Admiral Wrangell followed. Finally when he also
failed, the Union of Soviet Republics was set, and initial chaos followed.
All of these remnants of military power went eastward over the
trans-Siberian railroad, intent only in getting out of the turmoil of European
politics. The Czecho-Slovaks were
followed by Kerensky soldiers, then by Admiral Wrangell's whole army.
Slowly but inexorably the red army of the Soviets, as they gained
strength, pushed daily further along to the East on the interminable miles of
the trans-Siberian railway. Then, with all these refugee troops at the
jumping-off place on the Pacific coast of Asia, it was imperatively necessary
for the nations of the World War to do something to relieve the situation of
these unfortunate military refugees at Vladivostock.
The duty of rescuing these troops was
delegated to the United States. Again
the Quartermaster Corps was called upon and some of the very largest troopship
transports, as the "Mt. Vernon", was hurried to Russia.
Most of the transports after taking on the forlorn refugee troops at this
Siberian port, then steamed through the China Sea, Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, and
the Mediterranean to Fiume or Trieste in the Adriatic, where these troops were
America's participation in the Siberian
campaign was also material, but as a transportation problem. The American forces
were quickly and effectively transferred to Vladivostock; they likewise retired
from Siberia and were returned to San Francisco with scarcely more than casual
remark, as hugh operations in the European theatre of war overshadowed all other
USEFUL ARMY TRANSPORT TRIPS
An interesting trip of a non-military nature
was that undertaken by the assignment of an Army Transport to take the U. S.
official delegates and a shipload of exhibits to an Argentine International
Exhibition held in Buenos Aires. This
ship, its personnel, and all the delegates were lavishly entertained at the gay
South American capital, and doubtlessly proved an important factor in
maintaining cordial relations with this sister republic.
One who has never seen a U. S. Army Animal
Transport loaded with horses has missed an important military sight-five or six
hundred animals packed in one ship, and so arranged that they can have the
proper amount of light, space, ventilation, and sanitary attention.
All of these requirements represent the study and the experience of years
with the result that the system used by this country involves less voyage losses
or "shrinkage" of animal cargo, than that of any other nation.
The controlling factor of the system is that each animal is always held
up in his own stall, hence when the ship rolls he cannot fall down to then kick
other standing animals. This plan was developed as the result of a sad
experience on the Pacific in the Spanish-American War days, when during a
typhoon the stall fixtures gave way, and the entire mass of animals became a
kicking, rolling conglomeration. All
The freight vessels of the U. S. Army
Transport Service are as important a cog in the wheel of Army transportation
System as the passenger ships, and ply along on an equally regular schedule, but
with less spectacular acclaim from the public.
Often in fact it is desirable not to make too public their notable
performance, as they are often loaded at out-of-the-way ports with TNT or
equally high explosives, and are transferred to other remote ports for cargo
discharge. This is only another
feature of the "Transportation of the Army and its Supplies" even
though the supplies are not exactly comfortable shipmates.
A comparatively recent and unusual service
rendered by the Army Transports was on the occasion of the devastating
earthquake in Japan in 1925. Supplies from all interested nations were to be
rushed to the aid of the sufferers. One of the first relief vessels to arrive
was a small Army Transport loaded with supplies at Manila and quickly dispatched
to Japan. Supplies were still
needed on a larger and more comprehensive scale.
The American Red Cross, always alive to the
needs of unfortunate victims of such catastrophes, informed the President that
there was available oil the Pacific Coast the equivalent of a whole shipload of
Red Cross supplies, and suggested that the Government might find transportation
or ships to get these to the Japanese. An army transport at San Francisco was
pressed into service, fueled, loaded with these imperatively needed supplies,
and arrived in a Japanese port before any other Government or commercial supply
ship had left American shores. This case is but a repeated instance of where the
Army has had the ship available, and where, even if the vessel is not in full
commission, The Quartermaster General has authority to purchase supplies, fuel,
and other requirements, to transfer crews from other transports, or, if need be,
engage such seamen and licensed officers required from the Barbary Coast, or
wherever else obtainable.
FIRST WORLD WAR CONVOY
During the World War the first convoy of eighteen army transports were off on time, loaded to the decks with troops of every grade. Three early convoys all got under way strictly under Army control, following which the Navy absorbed control of transporting America's Army to Europe to contribute its effect to win the war.
visits since 22 January 2001