Dr. Steven E. Anders
Quartermaster Professional Bulletin - Spring 1999
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, suddenly and without warning, put our nation at war for the second time in just over two decades. Only this time it really was a world war. Fighting spread to the far reaches of the globe and included multiple theaters of operation. But no area proved more challenging for the US Army Quartermaster Corps than the war in the Pacific.
General MacArthur said afterwards that the magnitude of the Corps assignment in the Pacific Theater and its performance in carrying it out was "without parallel in the history of warfare." They had to generate unheard of levels of supply, and maintain a steady flow of goods across thousands of miles of ocean. And support varied actions on widely separated islands, in what can only be described as a "new kind of war" all the while overcoming hurdles never before encountered.
Quartermasters provided Class I, II, III and IV items (food, clothing and equipment, petroleum and general supplies) to Allied troops throughout the region. Frequent shortages of supplies and chronic delays added to the soldiers discomfort. Yet such lapses never seriously undermined troop morale or fighting capacity. Quartermasters in short did what they set out to do. They made victory possible.
But how? How did they make victory possible? What did the process of World War II supply entail? What obstacles lay in their path, and how were they dealt with? As we continue to think about the future of Army logistics in the 21st century, and the role Quartermasters will be expected to play in the decades ahead, it is still useful to probe the past for historical insights and analogies. The war in the Pacific offers an example of "force projection" on a grand scale.
FACTORY TO FOXHOLE
Getting much needed Quartermaster items from factories and farms in the U.S. into the hands of user units and combat soldiers abroad was no mean task. It involved a series of complicated steps and inter-related functions.
The first step was procurement. But effective procurement entailed more than simply calculating user needs and filling out the right requisitions. The nations wartime industrial, manufacturing, and agricultural capacity had to be brought up to speed. There had to be masses of trained personnel with purchasing, inspection, and supply management skills; coupled with effective administrative procedures and inventory control techniques. All this and more had to be well established for requisitions to have any chance of being filled.
Next Quartermasters had to deal with issues relating to proper storage. Almost all items required at least some care in packaging and handling, and protection from the elements while they awaited shipment to a distant location. Indeed perishable foods such as fresh meat, vegetables, and dairy products required even more protection, as well as sensitive handling and specialized equipment for proper storage. Supply personnel heading into a theater of operations always hoped for good docking facilities, buildings suitable for warehouses, materials handling equipment, and adequate storage containers for protection of incoming goods. For without these they knew their job would be infinitely more difficult, and the instances of loss, wastage, pilferage, and so on, far greater.
Alas, the Quartermaster supplymans final responsibility was to oversee the proper distribution of goods. To make sure the right items got from base and storage areas to the user units in the field, in the amounts needed and in a timely fashion. Success here depended on numerous variables. Including the type and size of units to be supplied. How far forward they were from the base area or resupply checkpoint. Weather and terrain in the area. Road conditions and transportation available. The commanders priorities. And of course the tactical situation.
What made the supply process difficult in World War II was the rapid expansion of the armed forces, and the hurry-up nature of logistics in the months following Pearl Harbor. Years of neglect had to be overcome as quickly as possible. Yet all that took time. Time for the nations industrial base to reach its full potential. And time for a newly mobilized Quartermaster Corps to obtain the necessary manpower and training, the specialized units and equipment, the organization and doctrine, and other institutions needed to carry out its global mission.
Against this backdrop loomed another set of factors that made Quartermaster operations in the Pacific uniquely onerous:
"Europe First" strategy. The decision by Allied war planners to take on Hitler first had a major impact on Quartermaster operations the Pacific. They felt the pinch of scarcity often as the mass of supplies and transportation were diverted to Europe. During the immense buildup preceding the Normandy Invasion, Quartermaster supplymen in the Pacific had to contend with long delays, huge backlogs of unfilled requisitions, and a worrisome depletion of available stocks on hand. The situation did not permit dramatic improvements until the last year of the war, most notably after V-E Day.
Long supply lines. The huge size of the Pacific Theater, which had to be subdivided into three separate spheres the South Pacific, Central Pacific, and Southwest Pacific commands, respectively made for unprecedented long lines of communication. Roughly 3,000 miles separated the New York port of embarkation, the Quartermaster Corps main shipping center on the East coast, from England and France. Yet more than twice that amount of ocean (6,200 miles) lay between San Francisco on the West coast, and Brisbane, Australia, where most Quartermaster supplies in the Southwest Pacific were sent and received. Instead of the 55 to 60 days it usually took for a supply ship to go from New York to Liverpool, the trip from San Francisco to Brisbane often lasted four or five months nearly two to three times longer. When items had to be moved from point to point within theater, the journey could be extended to upwards of 8,000 miles.
Such long lines of communication placed a heavy premium on reliable shipping. Yet a persistent worldwide shipping shortage that lasted for much of the war meant that Quartermasters had to compete for precious cargo space with other service branches. Shipping delays also led to more deterioration and mass spoilage. At the same time long supply lines increased the chances of accidents and enemy interdiction.
Underdeveloped countries. Very few areas outside of Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand offered anything in the way of modern industrial facilities or a usable infrastructure (such as highways, railroads, depots, warehouses, and improved communication) that might have eased the burden of Quartermaster storage and distribution in the Pacific Theater. Many of the bases from which they initially operated had few if any man-made facilities. Their construction often began with the simple materials at hand, and never approached the hoped for levels of efficiency. This virtual absence of industrial resources and improved networks and facilities increased the number of losses and added more delays in the supply system.
Harsh weather and terrain. Perhaps more than anything else, environmental factors worked against Quartermaster efforts in the Pacific. Excessive heat and humidity, mold and mildew, long exposure to tropical sunlight, drenching rain storms, and the ravages of insects all had a debilitating influence on supplies.
Food and rations spoiled when left unconsumed for too long. Wooden and cardboard packages quickly deteriorated, labels wore off, and cans rusted, leaving their contents useless. Shoes and clothing wore out at a much faster pace in the Pacific, even as their replacements oftentimes rotted in storage. Salt spray and sharp-edged coral took an equally heavy toll on packaged goods, vehicles, and equipment moving in over beaches. And muddy ports, washed-out roads and bridges, high mountains and dense jungles all severely hampered interior distribution. The environment posed a constant and unremitting challenge.
"Island-Hopping" tactics. As General MacArthurs successful "island-hopping" campaign unfolded, Quartermasters in the Pacific had to become increasingly adept at joint operations (working under Navy guidelines) while learning to perfect the demanding procedures required to support amphibious, over-the-shore type supply operations. The new tactics called for rapid logistical planning, tailored inventories, and quick development and movement of bases in short, it meant functioning in a very unsettled environment, where routine supply procedures had to make way for far greater flexibility.
Anticipation is key to good logistics. Yet at times Quartermasters had little advanced warning of what was to come next, hence almost no time to prepare. The 7th Quartermaster Company, for example, underwent several weeks of intense planning and preparation in late summer 1944 getting ready for the projected Yap campaign. They did not learn until mid-September after the division was already at sea! that the plan had been radically altered. Instead of attacking the small island of Yap, they found themselves heading hundreds of miles west to a much larger and more heavily defended Leyte.
Most Quartermaster supply operations issued forth from depots established at a series of far-flung ports and bases throughout the theater. With each new amphibious assault across primitive terrain, another round of forward area bases and sub-bases had to be constructed. And from these more supplies were massed, and pushed forward.
This set of procedures stood in marked contrast to Europe. There the task mainly entailed opening a single line across the English Channel, and falling in on a pre-existing infrastructure, while continuing to improve and expand operations. One observer likened the European operation to "a single hose growing larger in diameter as the immensity of operations increased." Pacific supply, on the other hand, with its widely scattered bases, was "like a lawn sprayer with a new stream of supply for every new supply operation."
RATIONS AND SUBSISTENCE
An unbroken, steady supply of food and rations is, of course, of vital importance to the survival of any army. The Allies got a reminder of this in the opening days of the war. U.S. and Filipino troops trapped on Bataan peninsula after Pearl Harbor saw a complete breakdown in food supply. By the time they were forced to surrender in April 1942 all subsistence had been exhausted, and those captured were suffering from widespread disease and malnutrition. It was lesson not to be forgotten.
In the months and years that followed, Quartermaster food personnel in the Pacific saw their efforts hampered in varying degrees by all the major factors alluded to above problems associated with procurement, long lines of communication, inadequate storage, transportation shortages, and all the rest.
Loss of Food. For much of the war the Pacific Theater experienced persistent heavy losses of food, resulting in unbalanced stocks in certain areas, chronic shortages elsewhere, and routine cycles of "feast-and-famine" among some unit messes. The problem of food loss which some observers claimed ran as high as 40 percent at times stemmed from a number of sources:
Storage Problems. With limited warehousing available in most areas outside of Australia and New Zealand, Class I items shipped to the Pacific often had to be stacked in big open food dumps, with very little if any protection from the elements. Even canned foods, supposedly "non-perishable," suffered from high temperatures, corrosion, rusting, and puncturing due to rough handling. In New Caledonia, for instance, in late 1943, one observer reported seeing what amounted to "shiploads" of goods totally wasted, useless; and "over 100,000 cans of spoiled products" in a single dump.
Quartermasters tried to mitigate such losses through adoption of various field expedients. Tarpaulins and poles were often used to create "portable warehouses" and "paulin oases," as they were called. They also used local materials such as coconut log ramps to serve as dunnage for stacking, and constructed thatched roof warehouses modeled upon native huts known as "bures."
Packaging Problems. Rough handling of food supplies seeing them carelessly sling loaded and dumped in huge cargo holds, for example, or unceremoniously dropped on beaches during amphibious assaults, or pushed off the back end of a truck also caused tremendous losses.
Back in the United States, the Office of the Quartermaster Generals research and development agency (the Military Planning Division) worked closely with private manufactures to come up with more resilient and durable outer packaging. The new V-Boxes, as they were called, did not stack as well as wooden boxes, and were not totally moisture proof. But they proved relatively durable, were easier to handle, and saved space. Quartermaster R&D specialists also produced sturdy moisture- and insect-resistant paper sacks for all kinds of food packaging, and improved tin can markings for when labels tore off. Together these innovations helped alleviate food losses in-theater.
Distribution Problems. The problem of getting food and rations into the hands of front line troops was always difficult. The theater lacked the necessary land-based and sea-based refrigerators to ensure a steady supply of fresh meats, produce, and dairy products. Primitive roads rarely permitted the use of semi-trailors or refrigerator vans, even had those been available. And on occasion enemy actions dealt a heavy blow to food distribution efforts.
During the Hollandia campaign in April 1944, for example, on the second day after the Allied landing, a Japanese plane scored a direct hit on the ammunition dump at White Beach 1. Subsequent explosions ignited gasoline stores in the area, that in turn spread to the main Class I dump nearby. The disaster wound up destroying more than 400,000 rations a full 60 percent of the inventory. Advancing infantrymen had to go immediately on half rations. Initial attempts to airdrop emergency food supplies also failed, and stocks on hand soon dwindled to a mere 300 cases. Fortunately some soldiers managed to sustain themselves mainly on captured Japanese rice and canned fish.
Amphibious operations and fighting along narrow strips of beach, or continuous movement through dense jungles and over steep mountain ranges discouraged the use of A-Rations (fresh foods) or B-Rations (canned stores) both of which had to be prepared by a trained cook. In such circumstances, mobile kitchens could not have kept up, and roads would not have allowed even quarter-ton trucks loaded with marmite cans to reach everyone. Harsh weather and terrain oftentimes precluded even the carrying of hot food by hand or with pack animals. The only solution was to provide combat troops with sufficient amounts of individual rations, which they could carry and prepare themselves.
Quartermaster R&D food specialists labored to meet the specialized needs and unique requirements of troops fighting in the Pacific. They came up with much improved C-Rations; lightweight "jungle rations" and K-Rations (both of which troops regarded as "picnic lunches"); high-energy, chocolate bars called D-Rations (for emergency uses only); and Assault Rations (often referred to as "candy rations") tailor made for amphibious warfare. These helped ease the storage and distribution burden, while providing commanders with increased flexibility.
CLOTHING, EQUIPMENT, AND GENERAL SUPPLIES
Quartermasters in the Pacific for a variety of reasons habitually had trouble getting sufficient reserves of clothing and equipment. Part of it had to do with the pace of mobilization. It took time for the U.S. clothing and textile industry to obtain the necessary raw goods from among sometimes scarce commodities. Also for a diverse army such as ours, thousands of uniform specifications and new tariff sizes needed to be drawn up, and sometimes plants had to be completely retooled for full-scale production. This also had to be balanced against the needs of troops destined for Europe.
Class II and IV type supplies usually did not enjoy high-priority status for overseas shipping. Among commanders, delays in receipt of clothing and equipment did not seem to arouse the same level of anxiety as that caused by almost any perceived shortage in food or petroleum products. The latter were deemed bona fide "war stoppers" and took first priority. As a result, Quartermasters in the Pacific often found that their requisitions for clothing, footwear, cots, tents, mess equipment, and the like, had in effect been placed on the back burner. When initial issue stocks wore out, it sometimes took exceeding long for replacement goods to arrive. On such occasions troops necessarily bore a certain amount of hardship and discomfort.
Packing and Storage Problems. As with Class I supplies, clothing and equipment incurred considerable losses due to packing for overseas shipment, and from want of adequate warehouses and other storage facilities after they arrived in theater. It was generally easier to pack clothing and equipment than food. Shippers relied on a variety of methods, including wooden boxes and crates, plywood cases, wood-cleated fiberboard containers, and V-Boxes for smaller items.
The typical procedure was to pack clothing and fabric products in tightly drawn up and covered "bales," for easy handling at ports and depots. Sometimes the waterproof covering tore off, allowing dampness to seep in and mildewing to occur. And occasionally rusted metal straps broke causing the contents to become scattered and exposed. But by and large baling proved to be an effective means of packing.
Less certain was what happened to clothing and equipment after it arrived in-theater and went into base storage areas. The environmental effects could be devastating. Cotton clothing or towels, for instance, left in unventilated stockpiles, with nothing but a piece of tarpaulin for cover, quickly became moldy and took on an unpleasant odor. Wet woolen blankets soon rotted, and the rusted metal eyelets on shoes fostered the decomposition of leather. Hard use of clothing, infrequent laundering, and careless handling (such as leaving them lying about in piles) also had extremely debilitating effects.
Tentage and canvassed material seemed to suffer the worst. In the course of heavy campaigning, combat divisions sometimes found that virtually their entire allotment of tents had become damaged or completely deteriorated in relatively short order. There was in fact a chronic shortage of tents throughout the war. Moisture-saturated stocks got moldy and leaked, so that even when they arrived in the field in sufficient quantities, they often failed to serve the purpose for which they were intended. A group of Australian observers in mid-1943, for instance, concluded that almost all the tents in New Guinea leaked. Field Quartermasters used various expedients to try to "tropicproof" canvas goods to reduce mildewing, but had very limited success.
Back home Quartermaster R&D specialists worked with scientists and industrial technicians to come up with water-resistant and mildew-resistant fabrics to help cope with the "fungus issue." During the course of the war they fielded a whole range of new fabrics, jungle attire, and specialized equipment for use in the Pacific. They also incorporated new camouflaging colors and patterns for tropical use. Introduced a "tennis shoe" style jungle boot in place of service shoes that had a tendency to wear out in the wet jungles of New Guinea in as little as ten days. Plus there were jungle hammocks, mosquito bars, headnets and protective gloves, and water-resistant jungle packs. And a new 18-inch, broad-blade machete to replace the old bolo knife for cutting through dense, tangled vegetation.
The one item that proved to be most useful and popular among combat was a rectangular, blanket-like, rubberized poncho. It was issued early in the war to all troops embarking for the South and Southwest Pacific areas in the place of a raincoat. They quickly learned though that ponchos could be adapted to a multitude of uses such as effective ground cover, foxhole "roof," tarpaulin, shelter half, and any number of other things. By wars end an even lighter weight nylon poncho had been developed.
Class IV Problems. The Quartermaster Corps garnered a mixed record in the area of general supplies, or Class IV support, for the Pacific Theater. This included the vast assortment of articles that had no prescribed quantity for initial issue. Such diverse items as rope, soap, candles, knives, forks, spoons, canned heat, typewriters, field ranges, and countless repair parts things that rarely, if ever, warranted a "life and death" priority status. While Allied troops were actively engaged in combat, Class IV (along with clothing and equipment) usually went forward on a very restricted basis. In fact, during the New Georgia campaign, in late 1943, the XIV Corps claimed they received no Class IV supplies whatsoever.
Shortages of general supplies usually stemmed from larger procurement problems, the inability of manufactures back in the US to keep pace with ever-growing wartime demands, and the priorities set by unit commanders all things that Quartermaster personnel had very little control over. Still when the inevitable shortages occurred, Quartermasters took the heat. The scarcity of Class IV items at the front unfortunately continued to fuel suspicions that (quote) "Them bastards in the back areas get all the good stuff."
Class III products (or POL) consisted of various grades of gasoline, kerosene, aviation fuel, diesel oil, fuel oil, and an assortment of petroleum based lubricants. It is absolutely critical for sustainment of mechanized forces. More vital even than clothing and general supplies. For without it the engines of war planes, ships, tanks, motorized vehicles, and all the generators for electrical use would cease to operate. Neither fighting units, nor logistical support units, could accomplish their varied missions without POL. As General Patton once said: "My troops can eat their belts. But my tanks gotta have gas."
Class III generally had fewer problems in the Pacific than did other areas of Quartermaster supply. The high priority accorded POL usually kept shipping delays to a minimum, and helped with efforts to build up needed reserves. U.S. Quartermasters were also able to draw from private oil company reserves in Australia, and made full use of their excellent bulk storage and handling facilities. Also because petroleum is less fragile and does not deteriorate quite so easily as other materials, it suffered fewer storage hazards. Still there were problems.
Lack of Bulk Storage and Distribution. Allied Class III personnel found they could rely on Australian refineries and their excellent bulk storage facilities for support in the Southwest Pacific until the action moved to New Guinea in 1943. Thereafter their assault had to move forward with limited access to bulk storage facilities. Engineers in New Guinea constructed medium-sized tanks for a few grades of gasoline and diesel oil, and created special dumps and laid aviation fuel pipelines in the vicinity of airports. But even these medium- to small-sized temporary storage facilities failed to meet all needs.
The problem became more acute in later 1943 and early 1944 as the island-hopping campaign got into full swing, and a succession of new bases and sub-bases were built. Larger petroleum vessels had difficulty moving into shallow waters. And when they got in, they often found that hastily built storage tanks were too small to permit complete unloading of petroleum. What they needed, but seldom received, were smaller vessels capable of hauling fuel between bases and to forward supply points.
In the South Pacific area, the Quartermaster Corps had a responsibility to provide POL to New Zealand ground forces, and land-based US Navy and Marine units, as well as the Army. They established massive POL storage areas on Guadalcanal when that became available, at Green Island, and Espiritu Santo.
The Packaged Alternative. The virtual absence of permanent type bulk storage facilities and pipelines throughout the Pacific meant that almost all POL was stored and distributed in containers mostly in 55-gallon drums. This contrasted sharply with experience in Europe. There QM Gasoline Supply Companies received most of their POL from huge fixed storage facilities, barges or railroad tanker cars, and promptly decanted it into 5-gallon jerricans. These were stacked in warehouses, open dumps, and along roads. And moved to user units in 2 ½-ton trucks and ¼-ton trailers. In the Pacific, they found the use of the much smaller jerricans neither practical nor desirable.
The 55-gallon drums were bulkier, heavier, and more difficult to handle. But they got around that by using forklifts and winches to load drums onto cargo trucks. When these were not available, they simply used planks and manually rolled them onto the trucks. Petroleum Supply Companies also attached pipes and nozzles right on to the drums, and used them to fill vehicles directly. They found that nearly twice the amount of fuel could be loaded on a standard 2 ½-ton truck using 55-gallon drums rather than jerricans.
Despite a persistent shortage of drums, and the absence of modern bulk storage and distribution facilities, Quartermaster efforts to furnish Class III supplies to Allied troops in the Pacific can be judged an overall success.
A FINAL ASSESSMENT
Quartermaster supply operations in the Pacific faced a challenge of daunting complexity. The task presented them meant, in essence, having to support a new kind of war in a most difficult environment, on an unprecedented scale, against a formidable and tenacious foe. Whats more at a remarkable distance away from the U.S.
What were some of the common elements of success? Certainly local procurement in almost all areas of supply helped the Quartermaster Corps meets its many needs, by providing for direct purchase abroad. Our major allies in the region, Australia and New Zealand most notably (along with Hawaii and many of the South Pacific island nations) made available vast amounts of goods and material, and furnished much of the labor needed to carry out such an immense undertaking. Scientific and industrial support in the form of ongoing research and development projects, as alluded to many times in the text above, also played a key role in addressing some of the age-old logistical problems encountered in the Pacific.
Still there were other less tangible, but none the less important, factors characteristic of Quartermaster success:
Pragmatism ruled.. Over the course of the Pacific campaign, Quartermaster supply personnel demonstrated time and again a penchant for practicality a "whatever works" approach to problem-solving. A company of Quartermasters organically attached to a combat division in the Pacific, for example, routinely undertook tasks never envisioned by doctrine and organization framers back in the states. Service platoons maintained much higher than normal stock levels during amphibious operations, ran stand-alone distribution centers, worked 24-hour shifts, and performed a multitude of unspecified tasks did whatever was necessary, and whatever worked.
Likewise they applied every conceivable means available to distribute supplies, including trucks, various sized landing crafts, DUKWs (amphibious vehicles), caterpillar tractors, airplanes, pack animals, native laborers, and hand-carrying of goods. So that at different times during the Luzon campaign, for instance, Quartermasters air-dropped supplies to isolated units; moved food, water, and other materials to front-line troops via pack train; and hand-carried goods in the steep mountain ranges above San Jose. Again showing their tendency to go with whatever worked.
Necessity the mother of invention. Faced with unusual circumstances and finding that they often lacked even basic items or equipment for carrying out their mission, Quartermasters in the Pacific routinely became masters of improvisation "QM Imps" they were sometimes called. For example, in an effort to speed up movement of supplies over contested beaches, Quartermasters pioneered the development of "palletized unit loading." Combat rations, petroleum products, and other supplies were strapped onto rectangular-shaped, wooden pallets, or "sleds," which could be quickly discharged from landing craft, dragged over beaches, and even moved inland for great distances to establish instant dumps. At the start of the war this efficient technique of cargo handling had barely been known even among commercial enterprises.
Quartermasters also devised a very effective LST-DUKW system of supply, used for the first time in the South Pacific by the 7th Infantry Division at Kwajalein. The landing ships (LSTs) transported the DUKWs (amphibious cargo carriers) to the assault area soon after the landing. A fleet of LSTs loaded with mixed cargoes in what was called "drug store" fashion remained just offshore. The Quartermaster DUKWs, serving as a "motor pool on water," made repeated runs back and forth in response to commanders requests for resupply.
Lessons Learned. Finally the Quartermaster Corps also demonstrated a remarkable ability to learn from recent past experience. Throughout the war the Office of the Quartermaster General sent observers to gather data on how effective supply operations were being carried out. Then used this information to effect needed changes. Lessons learned from previous assaults were compiled, analyzed in detail, and applied to the planning of future operations. The result was more or less steady improvements, and an accumulated air of proficiency in virtually all areas of supply.
They learned from after action reports, for example, that most individual duffle bags and interchangeable pouches (which held all the soldiers personal goods) deteriorated in almost no time when dumped on beaches without proper storage. Or quickly got lost, or mixed up in the mayhem. Or they were shamelessly pilfered there on the beach, or while en route to unit dumps, due to lax security. After witnessing this experience, supply personnel gradually moved away from the use of individual bags, and came up with new methods of storing personal clothing and equipment in easier to control and protect squad-size bags. This was only one of many lessons big and small learned by Quartermaster supplymen during the war.
Summary. When the war ended, the Chief Quartermaster in the Southwest Pacific Area, Brigadier General William F. Campbell, sent a note to all Quartermasters in his command praising them for their achievements. Despite the many difficulties, "not once," he asserted, "did our attack falter because of a lack of Quartermaster supplies!"
"Never before in any war," he went on to observe, "have supply lines been so long. Never before has so much been supplied over such distances." And he concluded his remarks by saying: "I am confident that logistics experts a few years ago would have said that the execution of the supply operations you have accomplished in the last four years [was] impossible. I am equally confident that historians in the years to come will write of your supply achievements as one of the miracles of this war."
Looking back from the perspective of more than a half century after the war, general Campbells words of praise seem warranted, and his assessment historically valid.