NAVAL SUPPLY DEPOT - WAR YEARS
In the expansion of the Naval Station subsequent to the Hepburn Board, the first items of Supply interest were the construction of a new transit shed, two one-story warehouses, and a cold storage warehouse in what is now called the Industrial Area.
Even though a concrete fuel pier, Pier "C", was completed in the latter part of 1939, no major additions had been made to the Tank Farm since the original construction in 1913. This lack of new construction in the field of fuel indicates the small increase in activity at the Naval Station until late 1939 when a construction program designed to increase the scope of fuel storage facilities was started.
With the increase in service to the Fleet and the increase in cargo as a result of expansion, the Supply Department was laboring under a terrific workload. Additional factors entering into the difficulty of providing increased service were that procuring stevedoring services beyond station force capacity presented problems of international character, and that customs clearance continued to be a complicated, lengthy, and delicate procedure.
Cargo unloaded at the Naval Station was free of customs duties but commercial lines did not consider the tonnage sufficient to warrant the added expense of wharfing at the station and consequently transferred their Navy cargo at Havana to coastal steamers or railroads for trans-shipment to Santiago de Cuba or Boqueron, thus giving rise to customs intervention because of the technicalities of unloading in Cuban territory.
One outstanding example of this situation was a shipment of beds for the Marines at Hicacal Beach. This consignment was landed in Havana and was trans-shipped to Boqueron where it was impounded by customs officials. The Commandant requested the American Embassy in Havana
obtain a release and he in turn applied to the Cuban Secretary of State. The request was denied on the basis of a clause in the Treaty of 1903 requiring payment of Cuban customs fees in such cases. Since the Supply Officer had no authority to pay customs fees, a dispatch was sent to the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts for authorization. Authority was granted to add the fee to the original requisition for the beds.
Because of the loss of time and the excessive amount of paperwork involved, arrangements were made with commercial steamship lines to handle cargo direct from the hold of the vessel to Navy lighters. By special authority, the Cuban government permitted cargo handling in this way free of duty, although a wharfage and handling fee of $1.25 per ton was assessed on all cargo handled at Boqueron. Stevedoring in connection with these operations was complicated by the international aspect of the situation, the position of the local Cuban labor unions, and the
mixture of military and civilian personnel. Details may be found in the "World War II Narrative."
From the beginning of the expansion program until February 1942, there was no transit shed to receive materials from cargo vessels. This made it impossible to give covered storage to materials as they were unloaded. Neither was there storage space to cover the materials after they were unloaded. Every available covered space for storage was used, and stores for which no suitable protective storage space was available continued to arrive in large quantities, both for the station and for ships based here. Extraordinary measures had to be taken to prevent serious damage to cargo. Minor damage had to be accepted.
Cold storage facilities likewise were overtaxed in late 1940 due to the increased number of civilians working under contract and living on the station, and the growing number of Naval personnel. A small fresh provisions ship arriving twice a month from Miami supplied part of the station's needs, but the lack of sufficient storage space limited the amounts that could be brought in.
The Ship's Store Ashore was moved to its present site on 12 October 1941. On 1 December 1941, the two single story warehouses were completed and transfer of stock from the old storehouses was undertaken. It was imperative that the stocks be moved with haste in order that the old storehouses could be torn down to make room for the new transit shed and the new refrigerated storehouses. The transit shed was completed on 25 March 1952.
New Bases Supplied
On 27 March 1941, agreements establishing bases at Little Goat Island, Jamaica, and Great Exuma, Bahamas were signed by representatives of the United States and British Governments. These two bases were established as auxiliary facilities under Commander, Guantanamo Sector, Caribbean Sea Frontier, and as such made additional work for the Supply Department because the bulk of the construction material used at these bases was shipped to Guantanamo for trans-shipment. Two additional storehouses were constructed to provide storage space for the trans-shipment materials. There was a large influx of aviation personnel and an enormous amount of cargo for aviation facilities.
With the establishment of the Naval Air Station at Guantanamo, a separate Supply establishment was set up within the Naval Air Station, thus relieving the Supply Department of the Naval Station of that duty. In September 1942, the two trans-shipment storehouses were turned over to the Naval Air Station. This action once again left the Supply Department with a critical lack of storage facilities. For several months provisions were flown to Great Exuma, but early in 1943, arrangements were made with Miami to supply that base with all materials except fuel. The Naval Station at Guantanamo was furnished with an oil lighter for that purpose.
Materials for Jamaica, except for refrigerated provisions, were furnished monthly covered lighters. Early in 1942, the Navy Department based a small refrigerated ship, YAG-18, of 70 tons capacity at the Naval Operating Base to make the shuttle trips to Jamaica. The storing of materials in Guantanamo until shipment could be made had the effect of reducing refrigerated space to one month's supply which was insufficient. Because of this condition, two additional refrigerated storehouses plus a 30-ton ice plant was approved, although not completed until 1 January 1944.
The greatest growth in Supply functions and activities was in the period of July 1942 to January 1944. The year 1942 saw many of the fuel construction jobs completed and converted into service.
A Petroleum Liaison Laboratory was established at Guantanamo in January 1943. The major function of the laboratory was technical advisory service to forces afloat. Samples of oils were evaluated with respect to contamination, corrosive acids, abrasive substances and water or other factors which reflect unsatisfactory mechanical operating conditions of engines. This activity also inspected all fuels received, stored and issued at the Fuel Annex.
On 9 October 1942, the Commandant of the Naval Operating Base requested that the Supply Department be expanded into a Naval Supply Depot. However, this was disapproved for the time being by the Chief of Naval Operations. The proposed Depot was to have been located away from the main industrial area and all Supply activities were to have been centralized in one area.
In 1943, it became apparent that Depot status was essential to operations. The Supply Department was actually doing Depot work in many respects, especially in the functions of supplying outlying activities such as Great Exuma and Jamaica. In other respects, not having Depot status resulted in duplication of work. In ordering supplies from the United States, for example, each separate activity was placing its individual order, orders were being duplicated, and the extra effort necessary to segregate individual shipments contained in a ship's cargo was extremely difficult.
The Base Commandant on 10 September 1943 sent a second request to the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts recommending immediate establishment of a Supply Depot. The Secretary of the Navy, on 15 October 1943 approved the proposal and directed that the Naval Supply Depot be established with the fuel facilities to be operated as an annex to the Depot. When the Depot was finally authorized, the development of the Base had reached a point that precluded any major shift of the Supply buildings. The result of not achieving a unified Supply area was that Supply buildings and activities were spread all over the Base and a certain amount of inefficiency was unavoidable.
The job of creating a Naval Supply Depot out of the Supply Department and other local Supply activities commenced immediately. The bulk stock of Clothing and Small Stores was taken over by the Depot as was the Retail Store. This action released one officer for duty in the Depot. The small Craft Supply and Disbursing Office which had been previously established was abolished and the disbursing functions were taken over by the Naval Station Disbursing Office and the Supply functions absorbed by the Depot. This released two more officers for the staff of the Supply Depot. The Naval Station Disbursing Office, in receiving the additional workload, was redesignated Base Disbursing Office. The Anti-Aircraft Training Center had one Supply Officer attached and he was ordered to the Depot, with his functions being absorbed by the Supply Depot and the Base Disbursing Office.
One of the numerous advantages of the consolidated supply system was in the local procurement of provisions. Previously five separate activities were buying and transporting local Cuban provisions. The result of this consolidation was an even flow of local products to the Base at lower prices.
Commander M. A. Norcross, SC, USN, who reported for duty in June 1943 was designated Supply Officer in Command, and as such, fell heir to the difficult assignment of organizing the Depot and translating policy into operations. The establishment of the Depot brought about an effective organization to provide service to the forces afloat. The system that was devised (common at many Naval Bases) started with the Supply Officer boarding all incoming ships. When the needs were determined, the ships had little to do except to store the materials as they were delivered aboard.
On 1 March 1944, the Depot had eight warehouses, the transit shed, four refrigerated storehouses, and a Fuel Annex having a sizeable capacity.
Up to and through this period, the Naval Air Station Supply Activities operated as separate entities, drawing upon the Naval Supply Depot for general stores. To centralize the Supply activities for more efficient operation, Base Orders were issued consolidating disbursing and commissary activities under the Naval Operating Base as of 1 October 1944 and directing the consolidation of all Supply activities under the Naval Supply Department, Naval Operating Base. The Supply Department, Naval Air Station was designated as the Aviation Supply Annex to the Naval Supply Department, Naval Operating Base, for the handling of technical aviation material. The accounting functions for the Base were thus centralized under the Accounting Section of the Naval Supply Depot. The consolidation itself created numerous problems, the foremost of which was one of Command relations. However, the application of time and patience eventually resolved these difficulties.
During the period of 1 July to 30 September 1944, the number of enlisted personnel in the Supply activities was reduced by one-third. A paradoxical situation resulted from the reduction of personnel. The workload of the Naval Supply Depot actually increased during the same period.
The trend in the Caribbean during this period was a gradual decrease in personnel and facilities due mainly to the diminished antisubmarine activity and the Allied successes in Europe. Planning for postwar deactivation was paramount and emphasis on the Base shifted from operations to training. A two-fold task was imposed upon the Depot; i.e., preparing to return to a semi-peacetime basis, and at the same time, maintaining an organization flexible enough to meet ever-changing conditions. Further consolidations, rigorous stock control, detailed inventories and elimination of surplus items and quantities were among the main projects undertaken.
Progress was being made in the internal operations of the Depot in many fields. For example, material handling improvements along with more efficient stevedoring increased cargo handling from 7 to 8 tons per hour in December 1943 to a maximum of 17 to 20 tons per hour by the fall of 1944. In the field of provisions, Commander Service Force, Atlantic, in July 1943 issued a directive requesting that activities outside the continental United States take all necessary steps to procure provisions suitable for human consumption from local sources. To supplement the local beef supply, a contract was negotiated with a Santiago firm. The firm maintained its own slaughter house which was periodically inspected by the Base Medical Officer. The beef was obtained by the contractor from various ranches in Cuba and collected at his refrigeration plant. The YAG-18 transported the beef to the Base where it was placed in the refrigeration plant and frozen. Samples of each shipment were submitted to the Base Medical Department for bacteriological analysis. Upon receipt of favorable report, the beef was issued to various activities. The contractor also supplied the Base with fresh milk. The same close inspection control by the Medical Department was applied to milk deliveries.
A nostalgic note for old-timers acquainted with Guantanamo Bay was that the coal Pile maintained on Hospital Cay was eliminated in September 1944, and the only coal available on the Base was carried in sacks by the Naval Supply Depot.
The final consolidation of all Naval Commissary activities on the Base was accomplished on 1 October 1944 when the Naval Station Commissary Department became the Base Commissary Department under the Base Commissary Officer.
Commander R. E. Lambert, SC, USNR, relieved Commander Norcross as Base Supply and Accounting Officer and as Supply Officer in Command of the Naval Supply Depot on 1 November 1944.
Base Accounting Office
The task of organizing the Base Accounting Office was begun in June 1944. The main objectives were a completely new Plant Account, centralization of accounting reports, and centralization of civilian payrolls. Prior to this time all such reports were prepared individually by each command on the Base.
In the latter part of 1944, the supply of helium gas for blimps was very critical. Speedletters and dispatches were exchanged regarding pending shipment but it seemed nothing could get the cylinders here. The same day the large order of the gas was finally received, the blimp squadron received dispatch orders to leave the area.
A remarkable record of cargo handling was achieved in January 1945 by the discharge of a provisions ship at the rate of 49 tons per hour. A commendatory note was received from the Fleet Supply Officer for this accomplishment.
Illustrative of the extent of the Navy's wartime expansion and the effectiveness of the training program was the fact that almost the entire staff of officers and men assigned to Supply activities (not Supply Depot) were classified as "USNR". Out of 27 commissioned and warrant officers only one Lieutenant and three Payclerks were "USN", the Lieutenant having recently transferred (in March 1945) from USNR. Out of the 238 enlisted personnel only ten men were USN. Very few of the officers and men had any training or experience afloat. To remedy this overall lack of sea duty experience, every effort was made to have officers and men make short cruises for a few days attached to Supply Departments afloat on temporary additional duty.
Fresh Provisions Problem
As previously stated, efforts were made to obtain as many fresh provisions as possible from Cuban sources in order to conserve stocks in the United States, as well as shipping space to this Base. Local procurement entailed difficulties and required extra precautions because of the always existent possibility of meats being diseased or contaminated. In order to obtain a first-hand picture of the sources of meat supply in Cuba, a Medical Officer and a Supply Officer were assigned to make an investigation of slaughtering plants in Oriente and Camaguey Provinces. The conclusion of the investigating officers was that the Base should discontinue the importation. Accordingly, the Base Commander ordered no more meat to be procured on the local market.
The interval between deliveries from the States during the period 1 July to V-J Day, 2 September 1945, was reduced to three weeks. These supplies were mainly fresh fruits and vegetables to compensate for the inadequate and unpredictable local supply. The Banana Supply Company used small ice-refrigerated vessels for transportation which resulted in considerable spoilage by the time of delivery at Guantanamo. Many attempts were made to alleviate this situation by requesting the Navy Supply Pier at Miami to supply fresh provisions via Navy vessel. In that way, Guantanamo's requirements would be included with the Navy Supply Pier's requirements coming from the Navy Marketing Office at Jacksonville. Considerable correspondence with the Commandant, TENTH Naval District, Commandant, SEVENTH Naval District, Commander Service Force, Atlantic, and Bureau of Supplies and Accounts finally resulted in an arrangement whereby the Navy Supply Pier at Miami would supply fresh provisions twice monthly, one shipment to be carried by a Miami-based vessel and the other by the YAG-18 attached to Guantanamo.
The Naval Air Station galleys and mess halls located at McCalla Hill and Leeward Point were under the direction of an officer attached to the Naval Supply Depot Aviation Material Annex, who was assigned additional duty as assistant to the Naval Operating Base Commissary Officer.
About this time, a concentrated investigation conducted by Supply and Intelligence personnel disclosed a long series of petty thefts of food from refrigeration plants. As a result of the investigation, the foreman of refrigeration plants and 14 of the 35 maintenance and operating employees were discharged. This housecleaning left the plants devoid of adequate crews but with the assistance of refrigeration specialists (enlisted personnel) from the Ship's Repair Department and the efforts of the remaining civilian employees operation of the plants was maintained.
Sharp Sales Increase
A sharp increase in dollar sales at the Ship's Store Ashore took place in July 1945. For the six months prior, the monthly sales approximated $80,000 per month, while they amounted to $129,000 in July. This increase was attributable largely to the transfer of the Training Group personnel ashore, as well as the return of families to the Base. A Navy telephone order delivery service was established, and with the return of families many problems such as that of providing fresh milk, fresh eggs and fresh provisions became paramount. A chicken farm was established on the Base by the Welfare Department, which sold the eggs through the Commissary Store.
The operations of the Naval Supply Depot during the war years can best be summed up in comparisons. The number of personnel rose from 6 officers, 17 enlisted men, and 27 civilians in 1939 to 20 officers, 115 enlisted men, and 252 civilian in 1944. Total yearly expenditure: in all materials rose from $473,000 in 1937 to $11,069,000 in 1943. Yearly issues of bulk fuels rose from 757,000 barrels in 1939 to 1,216,000 barrels in 1943; and expenditures for civilian labor rose from $57,000 for the fiscal year 1939 to $348,000 for the fiscal year 1944.
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