Pensacola & Company

Pensacola & Company

Nelson
Nelson

January 27th, 2012, 11:24 am #1

From the standpoint alone of its original destination, original routing, final routing, and final destination, the Pensacola convoy, purely by circumstance the first American wartime movement of men and materiel in the Pacific Theater, makes for a fascinating study. Questions that have been asked, within the forum and without, include:

1. Was the routing of this convoy changed before departure?
2. Was the routing of this convoy changed during its passage?
3. Did the "run-in" by the previous Boise convoy with one or two Katori class CLs impact in any way on the following Pensacola convoy, including a departure delay of at least a day?
4. Did the news of the Pearl Harbor attack impact on the route of the latter convoy?

The answers are (1) yes; (2) yes; (3) I'm not sure, although there was no delay; (4) yes.

I have alluded to emails from friends, associates, and sometimes strangers off-forum, and such allusion does not make me entirely comfortable. When I write "off-forum" I often feel that such is like reporting from a distant nebula in outer space. I can sympathize with Dick (John Lithgow) in TV's "Third Rock from the Sun", especially my favorite episode when Dick, feeling guilty that he cannot reveal to Mary (Jane Curtin) that he is, well, an alien (not only illegal but extraterrestrial to boot) and responding to Mary's query of what's wrong in his usual state of angst, blurts out, "I'm not of this world!" To which Mary replies, "This is news?" Anyway....

To set the stage, prewar the U.S. Navy had transports crossing back and forth across the Pacific, performing peddler service--carrying men and materiel, including ordnance--from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor or Honolulu, to one or more oceanic islands, to Manila, and often on to China--and back. Most commonly as the years moved into the early 1940s, the vessels were Henderson (AP 1) and Chaumont (AP 5), though they were by no means the only ones used in such service. These two ships were not dissimilar in age, length, displacement, and speed: Henderson, launched in 1916, was 484 feet long and displaced about 7700 tons, but she was far more graceful than Chaumont, one of the ugly Hog Islanders, at 448 feet and 8300 tons, launched four years later. Although having entirely different propulsion systems--reciprocating steam engine versus geared steam turbine--each had a top speed of about 14 knots. It was common practice for such vessels to stop at Wake and Guam in their transpacific runs, although on a given trip one or perhaps both islands might be skipped. Less frequently there was a stop at Midway, but the usual practice was to send a vessel from Oahu to such a relatively nearby island and back, as was done as well for Johnston, Palmyra, Baker, and Canton islands, where new construction was proceeding and garrisons were being established. Some of these islands had no harbor, and the surrounding reef was an obstacle to quick and easy access.

In early November 1941, the notion of a small convoy, No. 4002, was in the works. At that point it would consist of three navy and army transports--USS Chaumont (AP 5), USAT Republic, and USAT Willard A. Holbrook--with no escort yet assigned, if any. Routing instructions dated November 12, 1941, clearly state the intention for Chaumont to depart first, on November 26, and steam independently to Wake Island, and for the two USATs to leave Honolulu two days later and rendezvous with Chaumont off Wake on December 4th. Significantly, although commissioned and with a legit navy hull number, AP 33, Republic is indicated thereon as a U.S. Army Transport manned by U.S. naval personnel, and one can readily understand the confusion suffered by men who rode her to war on this early transpacific trip, even decades later in writing about that experience. It is mentioned that USAT Holbrook would have aboard one each naval signalman and radioman for communications purposes. The latitudes and longitudes specified for the convoy to pass through clearly indicate that the convoy would thereafter sail well north of the Equator and through the Mandated islands. Although it is not specified in these instructions, it was probably intended for these ships to stop at Guam so that Chaumont could perform its typical peddler duties (offloading supplies and gear, exchanging personnel, etc.). Contract vessels SS Coast Farmer and SS Admiral Halstead, both added later to the convoy after their permission to sail independently had been rescinded, also had cargo intended for Guam, as well as Manila. Whatever, it's clear that this small convoy as originally conceived was to pass through the Mandates.

Where I am now, I have only a partial collection of documents, with the next set of instructions not dated until November 27, 1941, and what a difference 15 days make: NOW the convoy consists of the three aforementioned vessels, ex-yacht/gunboat USS Niagara (a tender intended to support MTB Squadron 3--actually a half-squadron of six PT boats--based on Manila Bay), USAT Meigs, and three chartered merchantmen, SS Coast Farmer, SS Admiral Halstead, and MS Bloemfontein of Dutch registry. Last but hardly least, heavy cruiser USS Pensacola (CA 24), with its ten 8-inch guns, would be along for the ride. The ships were scheduled to depart "on or about" November 28, 1941, and to sail the southern route, to Suva, Fiji, and take on water and fuel as necessary. From there, they were instructed to sail west between the Loyalty and New Hebrides island groups, north of New Caledonia, through the Coral Sea and Torres Strait, and then NW and north through Molukka Passage, across the Celebes Sea, through Sibutu Passage into the Sulu Sea, and on to Manila Bay.

So, the answer to the first question is yes, the convoy route was radically changed before departure. The answer to the third question, whether the "run-in" by the previous Boise convoy with one or more IJN fleet units was the primary cause of this change is much more difficult to say, but given the date of the first run-in near Guam, November 27th, and the change in route probably made before the 27th, likely not. The run-in, when it became known, however, almost certainly strengthened the belief in the rightness of the decision to change to the southern, more roundabout route. More on the when in a bit.

As has been well known for a long time, once war had erupted, the decision on the route thereafter of the Pensacola convoy, including possible--even definitive--recall, remained uncertain for a lengthy period. Eventually the convoy was permitted to continue on its course as revised. These is a belief, supported by some commo evidence, that faint hearts at last prevailed and ordered the convoy to return after all, but either that order was not received or stouter hearts, fed up with backing and filling, determined to proceed on to Australia. After departing Suva, as had been planned, the convoy now passed south of New Caledonia, and meeting its ANZAC escort force, steamed to Brisbane.

Questions 2 and 4 are for all purposes the same, and their answer is yes, the course of the convoy was changed--again--by the news of war. It is essential to keep in mind, however, that the Pensacola convoy's shift to the southern route was NOT the result of the eruption of war, because that decision had already been made before any of the ships left Oahu. Rather, the convoy was shifted to the south of New Caledonia, and went to Brisbane, not through the Coral Sea and Torres Strait....at least not most of the convoy, and not at this juncture.

The only real question outstanding is to what degree the Boise convoy's run-in affected the course of the following Pensacola convoy. One correspondent whose information is almost always reliable insists that Boise's commanding officer--I assume with the concurrence of the convoy commander--decided to wait until the convoy ships were safely ensconced in Manila Bay before notifying Pacific Fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor of the incident east of Guam, which these officers very likely did not deem all that serious (no guns were fired, no demands were made to heave to and be searched). While I am yet wary of accepting that information without solid confirmation, it is however possible that the Boise convoy run-in had NO effect whatsoever on the course of the Pensacola convoy, despite testimony otherwise a few years later during the Pearl Harbor investigation and hearing. Such testimony, as we know, was too often convenient recall intended for either self-interest or to help a friend. And there is certainly NO evidence that the convoy's sailing was delayed for even a day, except USAT Holbrook, which was still loading equipment and ordnance at Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, but did catch up with the convoy at sea on December 1, 1941.

Nelson
Quote
Share

Nelson
Nelson

January 30th, 2012, 8:12 am #2

In previous posts, I wrote on the inclusion of MS Bloemfontein in the Pensacola convoy because she carried a priority war cargo: the 18 P-40Es we have discussed from time to time. Also I alluded to the mention of the preceding Boise convoy and its interaction with IJN naval units, by members of the congressional joint committee investigating why U.S. armed forces were taken entirely by surprise during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The formal name was the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, and its undertakings were published during the 2nd Session of the 79th Congress, late 1945-early 1946. Reflecting the political party in power, the committee consisted of five senators and five representatives, weighed accordingly with three Democrats and two Republicans in each house grouping. The committee chairman was Alben W. Barkley (D), Senator from Kentucky, who would become President Harry S Truman's vice president in 1949; its vice chairman was Jere Cooper (D), House Representative from Tennessee.

In the pages relevant to these matters, six of the ten men either speak or are alluded to. This cast of characters includes in addition to Chairman Barkley and Vice Chairman Cooper, Senator Scott W. Lucas (D) from Illinois, Senator R. Owen Brewster (R) from Maine, Senator Homer Ferguson (R) from Michigan, and Congressman Bertrand W. Gearhart (R) from California. Strongly challenging the conclusions reached by the majority, Senators Ferguson and Brewster would submit a dissenting minority report.

Speaking on behalf of the government is Gerhard A. Gesell, chief assistant counsel through January 14, 1946. The only witness appearing before the committee on these pages is Admiral Husband Kimmel, formerly commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), soon relieved after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the interest of space, I've omitted the instances where the chair either recognizes a committee member to speak or makes the usual overly polite and formal chat to engender comity among colleagues.

First, on Bloemfontein's inclusion in the Pensacola convoy.

Senator Ferguson asks Admiral Kimmel why on November 18, 1941, the Dutch ship Bloemfontein was included in the Pensacola convoy, then reads the then new routing protocol.
"In convoy with American flag vessels, placing of Bloemfontein is authorized. Until International conditions on and subsequent to 25 November become defined and clarified, however, any further direct or Great Circle routing between Hawaii and the Philippines should not be used. Until further advised by department, routes south of Mandates should be prescribed."
Senator Ferguson: Did you ever know that we had a message that we intercepted from the Japs showing that a deadline date was the 25th of November?
Admiral Kimmel: No sir, I never had anything like that.
Senator Ferguson: Do you think the fact that we put that [Dutch] ship into our convoy would indicate we were taking parallel action? Did you take it as such?
Admiral Kimmel: My memory is not entirely clear, but I think we had some materiel, or personnel, something on this ship that we wanted to get through, on the Bloemfontein.
Senator Ferguson: Did you think we had some soldiers on that ship?
Admiral Kimmel: I do not recall that, as to just what it was. On one of these Dutch ships that we used, we had some fliers that were going out to China.

Now to flash back to the Boise convoy:

The Chairman: The Chair understands counsel have some documents that they wish at this time to put in which have been received in response to request of various members of the committee.
Mr. Gesell: The first item that we wish to present has to do with the United States Ship Boise.
The committee will recall that Congressman Gearhart at pages 274 and 560 of the record asked for the log of the Boise and indicated that he had knowledge or information to the effect that the cruiser had sighted the Japanese task force on its way to attack Pearl Harbor. [Gesell indicates he has a photostatic copy of the entries in Boise's log between November 25 and December 7, 1941, inclusive.]
This log shows that on two occasions during that period, the Boise sighted a strange ship. The first occasion was on November 27 and I will read into the record the brief entry concerning that. On November 27, 1941, during the 18 to 20 watch, according to an entry of F.G. Dierman, lieutenant (jg), United States Navy, there was the following that occurred:
"Steaming as before. 1840 sighted darkened ship, bearing 240º T. estimated range 16,000 yards. Went to general quarters. 1845 set material condition affirm. 1851 challenged ship. Received no reply. 1852 changed speed to 20 knots. 1854 changed speed to 14 knots."
Senator Lucas inquired what time was 1840 and was informed that would be 6:40 p.m. Senator Ferguson inquired where Boise was at that time. The answer was deferred for the moment.
Mr. Gesell: On the 28th of November there is an entry by D.S. Edwards, lieutenant, United States Navy, in the 16 to 20 watch, Friday, November 28, 1941:
"Steaming as before, on various courses at various speeds.....1730 darkened ship. 1743 sighted ship bearing 325º T hull down. Changed course to 260º T, changed speed to 15 knots. Manned battle stations. 1750 cut in boilers No. 3 and No. 4 on main steam line. 1752 set condition affirm. On various courses and various speeds keeping between ship sighted at 1743 and convoy. Ship appeared to be HIJNS 'Atago' type, steaming darkened at 14 knots on various courses toward convoy. 1800 ship turned to course about 090º T. 1804 on various courses closing convoy. 1835 unset condition affirm."
Now, from the information presented by Admiral English [likely RAdm Robert English, who subsequently died in an air crash in January 1943], it appears that there were no cruisers of the Atago type in the Japanese striking force. [More recent research indicates both were of the Katori type training cruiser, en route from Japan to Truk.]
The Navy has plotted on the basis of the log, the positions of the USS Boise at the various times mentioned in the log.
With respect to the entries of November 27, 1941, the Boise at 1840 was at latitude 16º46'0.5" N., longitude 153º55' E......at 1743 November 28, 1941, latitude 14º56'0.5" N, longitude 148º48' E; at 1920 November 28, 1941, latitude 14º49' N, longitude 148º26' E.
We asked the Navy to state in simple terms what that meant in terms of the position of the Boise in relation to Japanese forces, and were advised as follows:
"The position of the USS Boise with relation to the track of the Japanse striking force on the 27th and 28th of November, 1941, from the best information available appears that the USS Boise on those dates was not less than 1,400 miles from the Japanese striking force."
[Subsequently Senator Lucas inquired how far the Boise convoy was from the Hawaiian Islands, and Senator Ferguson inquired about where the convoy originated. Mr. Gesell replied near Guam and from the Hawaiian area, respectively. He repeated that the convoy was 1400 nm from the track of the IJN Pearl Harbor attack force, thus was impossible for Boise to have seen that task force.]

So, with the first incident involving the Boise convoy taking place east of Guam on November 27, 1941, it would appear to have had NO effect on the subsequent Pensacola convoy routing, the general protocol having been modified nine days before that date to avoid a direct sailing west through the Mandates.

And I've been informed that USAT Willard A. Holbrook's delay in Pearl Harbor was due to mechanical problems, rather than loading additional cargo, as I first declared.

Nelson
Quote
Share

Jacques
Jacques

February 2nd, 2012, 8:11 am #3

From the standpoint alone of its original destination, original routing, final routing, and final destination, the Pensacola convoy, purely by circumstance the first American wartime movement of men and materiel in the Pacific Theater, makes for a fascinating study. Questions that have been asked, within the forum and without, include:

1. Was the routing of this convoy changed before departure?
2. Was the routing of this convoy changed during its passage?
3. Did the "run-in" by the previous Boise convoy with one or two Katori class CLs impact in any way on the following Pensacola convoy, including a departure delay of at least a day?
4. Did the news of the Pearl Harbor attack impact on the route of the latter convoy?

The answers are (1) yes; (2) yes; (3) I'm not sure, although there was no delay; (4) yes.

I have alluded to emails from friends, associates, and sometimes strangers off-forum, and such allusion does not make me entirely comfortable. When I write "off-forum" I often feel that such is like reporting from a distant nebula in outer space. I can sympathize with Dick (John Lithgow) in TV's "Third Rock from the Sun", especially my favorite episode when Dick, feeling guilty that he cannot reveal to Mary (Jane Curtin) that he is, well, an alien (not only illegal but extraterrestrial to boot) and responding to Mary's query of what's wrong in his usual state of angst, blurts out, "I'm not of this world!" To which Mary replies, "This is news?" Anyway....

To set the stage, prewar the U.S. Navy had transports crossing back and forth across the Pacific, performing peddler service--carrying men and materiel, including ordnance--from San Francisco to Pearl Harbor or Honolulu, to one or more oceanic islands, to Manila, and often on to China--and back. Most commonly as the years moved into the early 1940s, the vessels were Henderson (AP 1) and Chaumont (AP 5), though they were by no means the only ones used in such service. These two ships were not dissimilar in age, length, displacement, and speed: Henderson, launched in 1916, was 484 feet long and displaced about 7700 tons, but she was far more graceful than Chaumont, one of the ugly Hog Islanders, at 448 feet and 8300 tons, launched four years later. Although having entirely different propulsion systems--reciprocating steam engine versus geared steam turbine--each had a top speed of about 14 knots. It was common practice for such vessels to stop at Wake and Guam in their transpacific runs, although on a given trip one or perhaps both islands might be skipped. Less frequently there was a stop at Midway, but the usual practice was to send a vessel from Oahu to such a relatively nearby island and back, as was done as well for Johnston, Palmyra, Baker, and Canton islands, where new construction was proceeding and garrisons were being established. Some of these islands had no harbor, and the surrounding reef was an obstacle to quick and easy access.

In early November 1941, the notion of a small convoy, No. 4002, was in the works. At that point it would consist of three navy and army transports--USS Chaumont (AP 5), USAT Republic, and USAT Willard A. Holbrook--with no escort yet assigned, if any. Routing instructions dated November 12, 1941, clearly state the intention for Chaumont to depart first, on November 26, and steam independently to Wake Island, and for the two USATs to leave Honolulu two days later and rendezvous with Chaumont off Wake on December 4th. Significantly, although commissioned and with a legit navy hull number, AP 33, Republic is indicated thereon as a U.S. Army Transport manned by U.S. naval personnel, and one can readily understand the confusion suffered by men who rode her to war on this early transpacific trip, even decades later in writing about that experience. It is mentioned that USAT Holbrook would have aboard one each naval signalman and radioman for communications purposes. The latitudes and longitudes specified for the convoy to pass through clearly indicate that the convoy would thereafter sail well north of the Equator and through the Mandated islands. Although it is not specified in these instructions, it was probably intended for these ships to stop at Guam so that Chaumont could perform its typical peddler duties (offloading supplies and gear, exchanging personnel, etc.). Contract vessels SS Coast Farmer and SS Admiral Halstead, both added later to the convoy after their permission to sail independently had been rescinded, also had cargo intended for Guam, as well as Manila. Whatever, it's clear that this small convoy as originally conceived was to pass through the Mandates.

Where I am now, I have only a partial collection of documents, with the next set of instructions not dated until November 27, 1941, and what a difference 15 days make: NOW the convoy consists of the three aforementioned vessels, ex-yacht/gunboat USS Niagara (a tender intended to support MTB Squadron 3--actually a half-squadron of six PT boats--based on Manila Bay), USAT Meigs, and three chartered merchantmen, SS Coast Farmer, SS Admiral Halstead, and MS Bloemfontein of Dutch registry. Last but hardly least, heavy cruiser USS Pensacola (CA 24), with its ten 8-inch guns, would be along for the ride. The ships were scheduled to depart "on or about" November 28, 1941, and to sail the southern route, to Suva, Fiji, and take on water and fuel as necessary. From there, they were instructed to sail west between the Loyalty and New Hebrides island groups, north of New Caledonia, through the Coral Sea and Torres Strait, and then NW and north through Molukka Passage, across the Celebes Sea, through Sibutu Passage into the Sulu Sea, and on to Manila Bay.

So, the answer to the first question is yes, the convoy route was radically changed before departure. The answer to the third question, whether the "run-in" by the previous Boise convoy with one or more IJN fleet units was the primary cause of this change is much more difficult to say, but given the date of the first run-in near Guam, November 27th, and the change in route probably made before the 27th, likely not. The run-in, when it became known, however, almost certainly strengthened the belief in the rightness of the decision to change to the southern, more roundabout route. More on the when in a bit.

As has been well known for a long time, once war had erupted, the decision on the route thereafter of the Pensacola convoy, including possible--even definitive--recall, remained uncertain for a lengthy period. Eventually the convoy was permitted to continue on its course as revised. These is a belief, supported by some commo evidence, that faint hearts at last prevailed and ordered the convoy to return after all, but either that order was not received or stouter hearts, fed up with backing and filling, determined to proceed on to Australia. After departing Suva, as had been planned, the convoy now passed south of New Caledonia, and meeting its ANZAC escort force, steamed to Brisbane.

Questions 2 and 4 are for all purposes the same, and their answer is yes, the course of the convoy was changed--again--by the news of war. It is essential to keep in mind, however, that the Pensacola convoy's shift to the southern route was NOT the result of the eruption of war, because that decision had already been made before any of the ships left Oahu. Rather, the convoy was shifted to the south of New Caledonia, and went to Brisbane, not through the Coral Sea and Torres Strait....at least not most of the convoy, and not at this juncture.

The only real question outstanding is to what degree the Boise convoy's run-in affected the course of the following Pensacola convoy. One correspondent whose information is almost always reliable insists that Boise's commanding officer--I assume with the concurrence of the convoy commander--decided to wait until the convoy ships were safely ensconced in Manila Bay before notifying Pacific Fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor of the incident east of Guam, which these officers very likely did not deem all that serious (no guns were fired, no demands were made to heave to and be searched). While I am yet wary of accepting that information without solid confirmation, it is however possible that the Boise convoy run-in had NO effect whatsoever on the course of the Pensacola convoy, despite testimony otherwise a few years later during the Pearl Harbor investigation and hearing. Such testimony, as we know, was too often convenient recall intended for either self-interest or to help a friend. And there is certainly NO evidence that the convoy's sailing was delayed for even a day, except USAT Holbrook, which was still loading equipment and ordnance at Pearl Harbor and Honolulu, but did catch up with the convoy at sea on December 1, 1941.

Nelson
Not only was CHAUMONT ugly but apparently not popular with the Marines. See Crossing on The China Marines site:

http://chinamarine.org/Crossing.aspx

Regards,

Jacques
Quote
Share

Jacques
Jacques

February 2nd, 2012, 9:01 am #4

In previous posts, I wrote on the inclusion of MS Bloemfontein in the Pensacola convoy because she carried a priority war cargo: the 18 P-40Es we have discussed from time to time. Also I alluded to the mention of the preceding Boise convoy and its interaction with IJN naval units, by members of the congressional joint committee investigating why U.S. armed forces were taken entirely by surprise during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The formal name was the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, and its undertakings were published during the 2nd Session of the 79th Congress, late 1945-early 1946. Reflecting the political party in power, the committee consisted of five senators and five representatives, weighed accordingly with three Democrats and two Republicans in each house grouping. The committee chairman was Alben W. Barkley (D), Senator from Kentucky, who would become President Harry S Truman's vice president in 1949; its vice chairman was Jere Cooper (D), House Representative from Tennessee.

In the pages relevant to these matters, six of the ten men either speak or are alluded to. This cast of characters includes in addition to Chairman Barkley and Vice Chairman Cooper, Senator Scott W. Lucas (D) from Illinois, Senator R. Owen Brewster (R) from Maine, Senator Homer Ferguson (R) from Michigan, and Congressman Bertrand W. Gearhart (R) from California. Strongly challenging the conclusions reached by the majority, Senators Ferguson and Brewster would submit a dissenting minority report.

Speaking on behalf of the government is Gerhard A. Gesell, chief assistant counsel through January 14, 1946. The only witness appearing before the committee on these pages is Admiral Husband Kimmel, formerly commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), soon relieved after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In the interest of space, I've omitted the instances where the chair either recognizes a committee member to speak or makes the usual overly polite and formal chat to engender comity among colleagues.

First, on Bloemfontein's inclusion in the Pensacola convoy.

Senator Ferguson asks Admiral Kimmel why on November 18, 1941, the Dutch ship Bloemfontein was included in the Pensacola convoy, then reads the then new routing protocol.
"In convoy with American flag vessels, placing of Bloemfontein is authorized. Until International conditions on and subsequent to 25 November become defined and clarified, however, any further direct or Great Circle routing between Hawaii and the Philippines should not be used. Until further advised by department, routes south of Mandates should be prescribed."
Senator Ferguson: Did you ever know that we had a message that we intercepted from the Japs showing that a deadline date was the 25th of November?
Admiral Kimmel: No sir, I never had anything like that.
Senator Ferguson: Do you think the fact that we put that [Dutch] ship into our convoy would indicate we were taking parallel action? Did you take it as such?
Admiral Kimmel: My memory is not entirely clear, but I think we had some materiel, or personnel, something on this ship that we wanted to get through, on the Bloemfontein.
Senator Ferguson: Did you think we had some soldiers on that ship?
Admiral Kimmel: I do not recall that, as to just what it was. On one of these Dutch ships that we used, we had some fliers that were going out to China.

Now to flash back to the Boise convoy:

The Chairman: The Chair understands counsel have some documents that they wish at this time to put in which have been received in response to request of various members of the committee.
Mr. Gesell: The first item that we wish to present has to do with the United States Ship Boise.
The committee will recall that Congressman Gearhart at pages 274 and 560 of the record asked for the log of the Boise and indicated that he had knowledge or information to the effect that the cruiser had sighted the Japanese task force on its way to attack Pearl Harbor. [Gesell indicates he has a photostatic copy of the entries in Boise's log between November 25 and December 7, 1941, inclusive.]
This log shows that on two occasions during that period, the Boise sighted a strange ship. The first occasion was on November 27 and I will read into the record the brief entry concerning that. On November 27, 1941, during the 18 to 20 watch, according to an entry of F.G. Dierman, lieutenant (jg), United States Navy, there was the following that occurred:
"Steaming as before. 1840 sighted darkened ship, bearing 240º T. estimated range 16,000 yards. Went to general quarters. 1845 set material condition affirm. 1851 challenged ship. Received no reply. 1852 changed speed to 20 knots. 1854 changed speed to 14 knots."
Senator Lucas inquired what time was 1840 and was informed that would be 6:40 p.m. Senator Ferguson inquired where Boise was at that time. The answer was deferred for the moment.
Mr. Gesell: On the 28th of November there is an entry by D.S. Edwards, lieutenant, United States Navy, in the 16 to 20 watch, Friday, November 28, 1941:
"Steaming as before, on various courses at various speeds.....1730 darkened ship. 1743 sighted ship bearing 325º T hull down. Changed course to 260º T, changed speed to 15 knots. Manned battle stations. 1750 cut in boilers No. 3 and No. 4 on main steam line. 1752 set condition affirm. On various courses and various speeds keeping between ship sighted at 1743 and convoy. Ship appeared to be HIJNS 'Atago' type, steaming darkened at 14 knots on various courses toward convoy. 1800 ship turned to course about 090º T. 1804 on various courses closing convoy. 1835 unset condition affirm."
Now, from the information presented by Admiral English [likely RAdm Robert English, who subsequently died in an air crash in January 1943], it appears that there were no cruisers of the Atago type in the Japanese striking force. [More recent research indicates both were of the Katori type training cruiser, en route from Japan to Truk.]
The Navy has plotted on the basis of the log, the positions of the USS Boise at the various times mentioned in the log.
With respect to the entries of November 27, 1941, the Boise at 1840 was at latitude 16º46'0.5" N., longitude 153º55' E......at 1743 November 28, 1941, latitude 14º56'0.5" N, longitude 148º48' E; at 1920 November 28, 1941, latitude 14º49' N, longitude 148º26' E.
We asked the Navy to state in simple terms what that meant in terms of the position of the Boise in relation to Japanese forces, and were advised as follows:
"The position of the USS Boise with relation to the track of the Japanse striking force on the 27th and 28th of November, 1941, from the best information available appears that the USS Boise on those dates was not less than 1,400 miles from the Japanese striking force."
[Subsequently Senator Lucas inquired how far the Boise convoy was from the Hawaiian Islands, and Senator Ferguson inquired about where the convoy originated. Mr. Gesell replied near Guam and from the Hawaiian area, respectively. He repeated that the convoy was 1400 nm from the track of the IJN Pearl Harbor attack force, thus was impossible for Boise to have seen that task force.]

So, with the first incident involving the Boise convoy taking place east of Guam on November 27, 1941, it would appear to have had NO effect on the subsequent Pensacola convoy routing, the general protocol having been modified nine days before that date to avoid a direct sailing west through the Mandates.

And I've been informed that USAT Willard A. Holbrook's delay in Pearl Harbor was due to mechanical problems, rather than loading additional cargo, as I first declared.

Nelson
Nelson,

I'm glad you brought up the subject again. Don't know if you totally agree with me but I think that the immediate pre-war (from a US point of view) period and days leading up to the bombing of PH is probably the most interesting of all WW2 history. There is still much to uncover and the Pensacola Convoy episode is just one good example of how much we think we know vs. what we DO know. Let's see:

"... Until International conditions on and subsequent to 25 November become defined and clarified, however, any further direct or Great Circle routing between Hawaii and the Philippines should not be used. Until further advised by department, routes south of Mandates should be prescribed."

This protocol did not prescribe the exact route to be taken - just to keep South of the Mandates. So, how is it that the Pensacola convoy was directed to take the route through Torres Strait - from what we do know, not because of the attack on Pearl Harbor but because of a decision made sometime before the convoy departed from Hawaii?

The usual pre-war route, Pearl Harbor to Manila (passing close to Guam) was (still is!)a distance of 4820 nautical miles and steaming at 12 knots, the voyage would have taken about 16 days 18 hrs. The Suva/Torres Strait route as PensacolaCo was directed to take: 7242 nautical miles and without stop-over, pilotage and other delays - 25 days 3 hrs!

An alternative route, which must have been considered at one time or another, would have been to take the convoy South to the Equator at about 170°W, run westward to skirt South of the Mandates, then along the northern coast of New Guinea, to approach the Philippines from the South via the Molucca,Celebes and Sulu seas - a voyage of around 5920 miles (or 20 days 13 hrs). Why this route was not taken we do not know or perhaps it was indeed the route intended but changed after the PH attack. Please confirm what you wrote:

"The ships were scheduled to depart "on or about" November 28, 1941, and to sail the southern route, to Suva, Fiji, and take on water and fuel as necessary. From there, they were instructed to sail west between the Loyalty and New Hebrides island groups, north of New Caledonia, through the Coral Sea and Torres Strait, and then NW and north through Molukka Passage, across the Celebes Sea, through Sibutu Passage into the Sulu Sea, and on to Manila Bay." - Was the instruction definitely given prior to departure from PH to go by way of Torres or was it for the convoy to sail to Suva, in which case the "Middle Route" North of New Guinea would still have been an option?

Going by way of Torres was not a simple alternative to the usual pre-war direct (or great circle) route but clearly a drastic measure and an attempt to absolutely eliminate any chance of meeting at sea with the IJN, even if it added two thousand nautical miles to the voyage and delayed the delivery of priority cargo - urgently required planes, guns, stores and fuel to the Philippines by at least 10 days. Apart from the additional distance PensacolaCo would also have had to contend with the following:

1.Torres Strait
Torres Strait is not to be taken lightly. Because of the many reefs and shoals it cannot be approached directly from the East, especially if after a few overcast days, proper fixes could not be obtained. Navigation without a good fix off a known landmark was not accurate at all - positions determined by celestial observation under the best circumstances was and still is only accurate to about 1.0 nautical miles. Even today, with GPS and modern navigational aids, "Torres Strait is arguably one of the most hazardous and navigationally difficult stretches of water routinely use by international shipping".

"The waters of Torres Strait are shallow and strewn with numerous islands, small islets, reefs and shoals. The northern half of the Strait is only navigable by vessels of a shallow draft and deep draft vessels are restricted to using narrow channels between the various islands off Cape York principally the Prince of Wales Channel, immediately North of Hammond Island. Navigation in the Strait is extremely hazardous. Apart from the complex topography of the area, tidal streams and currents are very strong and visibility is frequently impaired by flash squalls and storms." (RAN Website 2011)

For these reasons vessels approaching from the East would have sailed to make landfall near Port Moresby and if not familiar with these waters, would have had to make use of the services of a pilot to make the passage.

2. Other Navigational hazards
The run down to Suva, across the southern Pacific, through Torres, through the eastern islands of the NEI and up to the Philippines was not a straight forward routine voyage for anyone. It made for difficult navigation virtually all the way, weaving through a seemingly never-ending maze of islands, cays, reefs and shoals, some of which were not properly charted and without much in the way of navigational aids - very few lighthouses and RDF beacons.

3.Weather conditions
November to April is Tropical Cyclone (like Hurricane or Typhoon)season in the southwestern Pacific . Weather reporting for this region was at the time not as well developed as it is today and severe storms could be expected to blow up without warning. PensacolaCo passed through at the height of summer in these parts and sudden squalls with heavy rain and reduced visibility would have been experienced.

3. Logistics
I'm not sure if all the vessels in the convoy had the range to make it all the way to Manila non-stop. Of course there was a stopover at Suva to take on fuel and water but this was only a little over a third of the way (2780 nm from PH) to Manila. We do not know if PensacolaCo was directed to have another stopover - at Port Moresby or Ambon perhaps. Would fuel and water have been available?

4. German Raiders
As previously discussed, German commerce raiders, was indeed considered a real threat - the very reason for a cruiser escort. PENSACOLA would not have been troubled much by a lone raider but would surely have preferred not having to deal with one. Once the convoy arrived in Suva, the world would have known all about it. Even if the men were not allowed ashore, the arrival of the convoy would not have gone unnoticed and the secret would have been out. It is likely that the Germans or Japanese had spies on the islands and would have relayed the information to the IJN. Even if a German auxiliary cruiser was not going to confront USS PENSACOLA, it could have mined any of the passages between the islands in the path of the convoy. I'm not talking about a what-if situation here, just pointing out another threat that PensacolaCo would have had to be prepared for by taking the Southern Route.

It's abundantly clear then that the Suva/Torres route was going to be long, expensive, difficult and dangerous - understandable in time of war like with for example,the US East coast/Mediterranean convoys that ran through the Panama Canal, down the Pacific coast of South America, across the Atlantic to South Africa and then up to the Suez Canal to avoid U-Boats in the mid-Atlantic. But for the US there was no war yet.

If indeed the Pensacola Convoy was directed to take the Torres Strait route from the outset, perhaps it formed part of a pre-war plan to get supplies to an isolated Philippines, not accessible from the East and Operation Plum was a trial run for future Manila-bound convoys. It should be noted that BLOEMFONTEIN did the trip from San Francisco via Brisbane, Torres Strait and Thursday Island up to Manila in August 1941. And along with this theory, was Ambon part of the plan? I know that the NEI government requested RAAF reinforcements on 5 December 1941. Air cover for the convoys perhaps?

Regards,

Jacques

Quote
Share

Nelson
Nelson

February 2nd, 2012, 9:52 am #5

Not only was CHAUMONT ugly but apparently not popular with the Marines. See Crossing on The China Marines site:

http://chinamarine.org/Crossing.aspx

Regards,

Jacques
Jacques,

> Not only was CHAUMONT ugly but apparently not popular.... > and what else needs to be said?

Indeed the very point I attempted to make--and obviously failed--in trying to persuade another poster in this forum of that reality last October, in ruling out a photograph purportedly of the Timor convoy escorted by USS Houston. He continues to think the vessel in question is USAT Willard A. Holbrook, one of the 535 Class I discussed coincidentally (with Keith Allen) just last week, a class that is as well known and identifiable as is the yewgly Hog Islander. Telling the vessels of these two classes apart is as EZ as apple pie. To wit:

The 535 Class (EFC Design 1029) has a flush main deck, with the sizable funnel located about halfway between the front of the bridge superstructure and the rear of the main superstructure (and seen at a distance, the superstructure appears as one, with the stack halfway).

The 448-foot Hog Islander (EFC Design 1024) has a straight-up-and-down stem and stern, with a sunken well deck fore and aft of the center superstructure, leaving a great ungainly lump on each end of the vessel. The funnel is somewhat forward horizontally of the vertical centerline through the superstructure. The result is a nearly symmetrical vessel seen from either side, and if it weren't for that stack--on the slender side proportionally--you couldn't tell if the ugly ol' gal was coming or going.

The upshot of course is the presence of a Hog Islander in the convoy--and at that early stage she HAD to be Chaumont (AP 5)--rules out said convoy as the one heading to or from Timor. And so the escort had to be Pensacola (CA 24) not Houston (CA 30). QED.

Just maybe that observer had the sun in his eyes? Perhaps I should send him a discount chit for a vision exam? Only trying to be helpful here.

Nelson
Quote
Share

Melmoth the Wanderer (dmk)
Melmoth the Wanderer (dmk)

February 2nd, 2012, 3:03 pm #6

Christ
Help
All
US
Monkeys
On
Navy
Transports
Quote
Share

Jacques
Jacques

February 2nd, 2012, 5:53 pm #7

Nelson,

"... The result is a nearly symmetrical vessel seen from either side, and if it weren't for that stack--on the slender side proportionally--you couldn't tell if the ugly ol' gal was coming or going."

You've got it right there - and I'm pretty sure that that was the intention. She was designed at a time when U-boats were very much feared and therefore the design incorporated symmetry as much as possible and exaggerated the "sunken well deck" fore and aft, with very little sheer of the bow and stern, clearly to deceive an observer, such as a Kapitänleutnant peering through his periscope. The false stern is shaped above the waterline to be as near as possible to the shape of the bow and would have carried false anchors to complete the illusion - and I thought the Brits were clever with their Kil-class gunboats!

Good one Melmoth! Right up there with "Son of a Bitch 2nd Class"!(Curtiss SB2C)

Regards,

Jacques
Quote
Share

Nelson
Nelson

February 3rd, 2012, 6:08 am #8

Nelson,

I'm glad you brought up the subject again. Don't know if you totally agree with me but I think that the immediate pre-war (from a US point of view) period and days leading up to the bombing of PH is probably the most interesting of all WW2 history. There is still much to uncover and the Pensacola Convoy episode is just one good example of how much we think we know vs. what we DO know. Let's see:

"... Until International conditions on and subsequent to 25 November become defined and clarified, however, any further direct or Great Circle routing between Hawaii and the Philippines should not be used. Until further advised by department, routes south of Mandates should be prescribed."

This protocol did not prescribe the exact route to be taken - just to keep South of the Mandates. So, how is it that the Pensacola convoy was directed to take the route through Torres Strait - from what we do know, not because of the attack on Pearl Harbor but because of a decision made sometime before the convoy departed from Hawaii?

The usual pre-war route, Pearl Harbor to Manila (passing close to Guam) was (still is!)a distance of 4820 nautical miles and steaming at 12 knots, the voyage would have taken about 16 days 18 hrs. The Suva/Torres Strait route as PensacolaCo was directed to take: 7242 nautical miles and without stop-over, pilotage and other delays - 25 days 3 hrs!

An alternative route, which must have been considered at one time or another, would have been to take the convoy South to the Equator at about 170°W, run westward to skirt South of the Mandates, then along the northern coast of New Guinea, to approach the Philippines from the South via the Molucca,Celebes and Sulu seas - a voyage of around 5920 miles (or 20 days 13 hrs). Why this route was not taken we do not know or perhaps it was indeed the route intended but changed after the PH attack. Please confirm what you wrote:

"The ships were scheduled to depart "on or about" November 28, 1941, and to sail the southern route, to Suva, Fiji, and take on water and fuel as necessary. From there, they were instructed to sail west between the Loyalty and New Hebrides island groups, north of New Caledonia, through the Coral Sea and Torres Strait, and then NW and north through Molukka Passage, across the Celebes Sea, through Sibutu Passage into the Sulu Sea, and on to Manila Bay." - Was the instruction definitely given prior to departure from PH to go by way of Torres or was it for the convoy to sail to Suva, in which case the "Middle Route" North of New Guinea would still have been an option?

Going by way of Torres was not a simple alternative to the usual pre-war direct (or great circle) route but clearly a drastic measure and an attempt to absolutely eliminate any chance of meeting at sea with the IJN, even if it added two thousand nautical miles to the voyage and delayed the delivery of priority cargo - urgently required planes, guns, stores and fuel to the Philippines by at least 10 days. Apart from the additional distance PensacolaCo would also have had to contend with the following:

1.Torres Strait
Torres Strait is not to be taken lightly. Because of the many reefs and shoals it cannot be approached directly from the East, especially if after a few overcast days, proper fixes could not be obtained. Navigation without a good fix off a known landmark was not accurate at all - positions determined by celestial observation under the best circumstances was and still is only accurate to about 1.0 nautical miles. Even today, with GPS and modern navigational aids, "Torres Strait is arguably one of the most hazardous and navigationally difficult stretches of water routinely use by international shipping".

"The waters of Torres Strait are shallow and strewn with numerous islands, small islets, reefs and shoals. The northern half of the Strait is only navigable by vessels of a shallow draft and deep draft vessels are restricted to using narrow channels between the various islands off Cape York principally the Prince of Wales Channel, immediately North of Hammond Island. Navigation in the Strait is extremely hazardous. Apart from the complex topography of the area, tidal streams and currents are very strong and visibility is frequently impaired by flash squalls and storms." (RAN Website 2011)

For these reasons vessels approaching from the East would have sailed to make landfall near Port Moresby and if not familiar with these waters, would have had to make use of the services of a pilot to make the passage.

2. Other Navigational hazards
The run down to Suva, across the southern Pacific, through Torres, through the eastern islands of the NEI and up to the Philippines was not a straight forward routine voyage for anyone. It made for difficult navigation virtually all the way, weaving through a seemingly never-ending maze of islands, cays, reefs and shoals, some of which were not properly charted and without much in the way of navigational aids - very few lighthouses and RDF beacons.

3.Weather conditions
November to April is Tropical Cyclone (like Hurricane or Typhoon)season in the southwestern Pacific . Weather reporting for this region was at the time not as well developed as it is today and severe storms could be expected to blow up without warning. PensacolaCo passed through at the height of summer in these parts and sudden squalls with heavy rain and reduced visibility would have been experienced.

3. Logistics
I'm not sure if all the vessels in the convoy had the range to make it all the way to Manila non-stop. Of course there was a stopover at Suva to take on fuel and water but this was only a little over a third of the way (2780 nm from PH) to Manila. We do not know if PensacolaCo was directed to have another stopover - at Port Moresby or Ambon perhaps. Would fuel and water have been available?

4. German Raiders
As previously discussed, German commerce raiders, was indeed considered a real threat - the very reason for a cruiser escort. PENSACOLA would not have been troubled much by a lone raider but would surely have preferred not having to deal with one. Once the convoy arrived in Suva, the world would have known all about it. Even if the men were not allowed ashore, the arrival of the convoy would not have gone unnoticed and the secret would have been out. It is likely that the Germans or Japanese had spies on the islands and would have relayed the information to the IJN. Even if a German auxiliary cruiser was not going to confront USS PENSACOLA, it could have mined any of the passages between the islands in the path of the convoy. I'm not talking about a what-if situation here, just pointing out another threat that PensacolaCo would have had to be prepared for by taking the Southern Route.

It's abundantly clear then that the Suva/Torres route was going to be long, expensive, difficult and dangerous - understandable in time of war like with for example,the US East coast/Mediterranean convoys that ran through the Panama Canal, down the Pacific coast of South America, across the Atlantic to South Africa and then up to the Suez Canal to avoid U-Boats in the mid-Atlantic. But for the US there was no war yet.

If indeed the Pensacola Convoy was directed to take the Torres Strait route from the outset, perhaps it formed part of a pre-war plan to get supplies to an isolated Philippines, not accessible from the East and Operation Plum was a trial run for future Manila-bound convoys. It should be noted that BLOEMFONTEIN did the trip from San Francisco via Brisbane, Torres Strait and Thursday Island up to Manila in August 1941. And along with this theory, was Ambon part of the plan? I know that the NEI government requested RAAF reinforcements on 5 December 1941. Air cover for the convoys perhaps?

Regards,

Jacques
Jacques,

> Don't know if you totally agree with me, but I think that the immediate pre-war (from a US point of view) period and days leading up to the bombing of PH is probably the most interesting of all WW2 history. >

I suspicion that you know my answer without having to ask what it will be. My answer, though qualified, is a resounding yes, with the qualification that we need to extend the time window beyond December 7-8, 1941, until the fall of Corregidor in May 1942, which covers ALL of the Allied disasters, permits a detailed study of how the Japanese military and naval forces achieved such astounding success both strategically and tactically, and gets us--just--onto the road of recovery for the Allies. As I've written, while not a Midway to be sure, I think the battle of Coral Sea was far more important than most give credit to. One question I would ask, after an immense amount of reading on both battles, is whether the U.S. Navy was more professionally competent during the May 1942 battle than the June 1942 one, the latter of which involved an enormous amount of incredible luck against the always relentlessly courageous and competent Imperial Japanese Navy. One example: the substantial number of American aerial assaults against the IJN's main battle force at Midway before scoring one hit. Can anyone imagine the straight-shooting IJN of June 1942 making a fraction of those assaults without drawing blood in copious quantities? But as I'm wont to do, I digress.

To return to your question, although there is a decided and surprising minimum of interest in the Philippines campaign among this disparate forum, I think most of the participants share that time frame interest. Beyond that observation, I'll let others speak for themselves.

If we exclude the very special Concord-Marblehead convoy in early 1941, once regular cruiser-escorted, Manila-bound convoys began in the late summer of 1941, there were seven such undertakings before war began, only one westbound convoy previous to the Pensacola convoy taking the southern route, and only one doing so on the eastbound return. In addition to the seven cruiser-escorted convoys, numerous single merchant ships carried military materiel, as part at least of their cargo load. With time approaching November and December 1941, all or most of these independent sailers went by the southern route. Quite obviously, it was one thing to steam through the Mandates in convoy, with a heavy or light cruiser to provide protection, quite another to do so alone, at the mercy of a German raider or the IJN. And one must keep in mind that the concern was by both Commonwealth nations then at war and the United States that the Japanese would give aid, comfort, and encouragement, implicitly or explicitly, to those raiders. I cannot review the independent sailers' routing instructions right now, but will do so soon.

That written, I haven't encountered any other routes except (i) the central one through the Mandates, passing Guam, and (ii) the southern one, passing through Torres Strait. There were few alternatives: going more northerly would place American shipping closer to Japan; going south, and turning west too soon would pass through the southern Mandates; even farther south and then west would still put the ships in range of IJN long-range patrol aircraft as they progressed farther westward. And I'm wondering whether the U.S. had sufficiently accurate charts of the waters of the eastern NEI, as opposed to the main route north described previously.

Everything you've written about Torres Strait is true, but you forgot one thing: it was mined against German raiders. Yes, pilots were always necessary to transit the strait between Port Moresby and Prince of Wales Channel (near Hammond and Thursday Islands), the time required to do so a function of direction and time of day.

Some interesting facts before the Pensacola convoy sailed:

The only westbound cruiser-escorted convoy to transit Torres Strait was a single ship, USAT Liberty, escorted by USS Portland (CA 33). It required 10 hours to transit the strait. On November 8, 1941, the cruiser turned Liberty loose, and thereupon she went to Tarakan and took on bunker oil. Both Portland and HMS Danae arrived at Manila Bay on November 12, and two days later, both SS Awatea and armed merchant cruiser HMCS Prince Robert stood in. That same day, November 14, the two Canadian vessels, both of them carrying the two Canadian rifle battalions, departed for Hong Kong along with the British cruiser as an additional escort. The two Canadian ships had taken the direct route west, though not the Philippine registry Don Jose carrying the two Canadian battalions' Bren gun carriers and trucks, which had come via the southern route (see below). Why a Canadian bottom had not been used to carry these vehicles to Hong Kong remains perplexing.

Not long thereafter, on November 20, 1941, a two-ship convoy escorted by USS Louisville (CA 28) arrived in Manila Bay. On the following day, her log noted the arrival of HMCS Prince Rupert, which I conclude is a typo for HMCS Prince Robert on its homeward leg (HMCS Prince Rupert was a River class frigate not commissioned until early 1943). Louisville left Manila Bay on November 25, took on bunker oil at Tarakan two days later, and passed Ambon on the 30th, at dark, noting Amboina Lighthouse was not lighted. She passed USAT Liberty on December 1; two days later, in Torres Strait, she and her convoy passed SS Don Jose with those Canadian military vehicles aboard. It required 22 hours to negotiate the strait eastward.

Supplying the Philippines, as in virtually every instance where an outpost lay deep in hostile territory, whether Fort Apache or the city of Berlin, was always difficult, dangerous, and costly. Whichever decision one made, there was a strong downside: west through the Mandates and one faced the maximum danger; going south maximized both time and difficulty....and time was something the U.S. badly lacked. Moreover, the burden on the escorts, whether the U.S. cavalry or the U.S. Navy's cruisers, pushed them to exhausting limits.

Nelson
Quote
Share

Nelson
Nelson

February 3rd, 2012, 8:55 am #9

Jacques,

You wrote and I missed:

> 3. Logistics
I'm not sure if all the vessels in the convoy had the range to make it all the way to Manila non-stop. Of course there was a stopover at Suva to take on fuel and water, but this was only a little over a third of the way (2780 nm from PH) to Manila. We do not know if Pensacola Co[nvoy] was directed to have another stopover - at Port Moresby or Ambon perhaps. Would fuel and water have been available? >

The revised routing instructions, dated 27 Nov 1941, No. 7, reads, "After leaving Point NEGAT, proceed to within signalling distance of PORT MORESBY, NEW GUINEA, where you will be furnished pilots for TORRES STRAIT. Vessels requiring fuel or water at this time may be furnished some at PORT MORESBY."

POINT NEGAT was the last of three specified points the convoy was required to pass through after departing Suva, Fiji, viz., Lat. 12º40'S, Long. 149º00'E. I think you have hit on the reason for the route passing through Torres Strait: by taking a truncated course along the northern shore of New Guinea as you suggested, there was no place to get fuel or water until they were at Tarakan, and the Dutch did not wish this kind of regular contact with the U.S. Navy. As you wrote, it would have been a long voyage from Suva to Manila Bay, and for such reason would appear that proceeding to Port Moresby was the only practical answer.

In my previous I wrote, "One example: the substantial number of American aerial assaults against the IJN's main battle force at Midway before scoring one hit." So not to be ambiguous, of course I mean the First Carrier Striking Force or informally, Kido Butai, which was indeed the primary target for U.S. naval air attacks.

Nelson
Quote
Share

Melmoth the Wanderer (dmk)
Melmoth the Wanderer (dmk)

February 4th, 2012, 7:24 pm #10

Nelson,

I'm glad you brought up the subject again. Don't know if you totally agree with me but I think that the immediate pre-war (from a US point of view) period and days leading up to the bombing of PH is probably the most interesting of all WW2 history. There is still much to uncover and the Pensacola Convoy episode is just one good example of how much we think we know vs. what we DO know. Let's see:

"... Until International conditions on and subsequent to 25 November become defined and clarified, however, any further direct or Great Circle routing between Hawaii and the Philippines should not be used. Until further advised by department, routes south of Mandates should be prescribed."

This protocol did not prescribe the exact route to be taken - just to keep South of the Mandates. So, how is it that the Pensacola convoy was directed to take the route through Torres Strait - from what we do know, not because of the attack on Pearl Harbor but because of a decision made sometime before the convoy departed from Hawaii?

The usual pre-war route, Pearl Harbor to Manila (passing close to Guam) was (still is!)a distance of 4820 nautical miles and steaming at 12 knots, the voyage would have taken about 16 days 18 hrs. The Suva/Torres Strait route as PensacolaCo was directed to take: 7242 nautical miles and without stop-over, pilotage and other delays - 25 days 3 hrs!

An alternative route, which must have been considered at one time or another, would have been to take the convoy South to the Equator at about 170°W, run westward to skirt South of the Mandates, then along the northern coast of New Guinea, to approach the Philippines from the South via the Molucca,Celebes and Sulu seas - a voyage of around 5920 miles (or 20 days 13 hrs). Why this route was not taken we do not know or perhaps it was indeed the route intended but changed after the PH attack. Please confirm what you wrote:

"The ships were scheduled to depart "on or about" November 28, 1941, and to sail the southern route, to Suva, Fiji, and take on water and fuel as necessary. From there, they were instructed to sail west between the Loyalty and New Hebrides island groups, north of New Caledonia, through the Coral Sea and Torres Strait, and then NW and north through Molukka Passage, across the Celebes Sea, through Sibutu Passage into the Sulu Sea, and on to Manila Bay." - Was the instruction definitely given prior to departure from PH to go by way of Torres or was it for the convoy to sail to Suva, in which case the "Middle Route" North of New Guinea would still have been an option?

Going by way of Torres was not a simple alternative to the usual pre-war direct (or great circle) route but clearly a drastic measure and an attempt to absolutely eliminate any chance of meeting at sea with the IJN, even if it added two thousand nautical miles to the voyage and delayed the delivery of priority cargo - urgently required planes, guns, stores and fuel to the Philippines by at least 10 days. Apart from the additional distance PensacolaCo would also have had to contend with the following:

1.Torres Strait
Torres Strait is not to be taken lightly. Because of the many reefs and shoals it cannot be approached directly from the East, especially if after a few overcast days, proper fixes could not be obtained. Navigation without a good fix off a known landmark was not accurate at all - positions determined by celestial observation under the best circumstances was and still is only accurate to about 1.0 nautical miles. Even today, with GPS and modern navigational aids, "Torres Strait is arguably one of the most hazardous and navigationally difficult stretches of water routinely use by international shipping".

"The waters of Torres Strait are shallow and strewn with numerous islands, small islets, reefs and shoals. The northern half of the Strait is only navigable by vessels of a shallow draft and deep draft vessels are restricted to using narrow channels between the various islands off Cape York principally the Prince of Wales Channel, immediately North of Hammond Island. Navigation in the Strait is extremely hazardous. Apart from the complex topography of the area, tidal streams and currents are very strong and visibility is frequently impaired by flash squalls and storms." (RAN Website 2011)

For these reasons vessels approaching from the East would have sailed to make landfall near Port Moresby and if not familiar with these waters, would have had to make use of the services of a pilot to make the passage.

2. Other Navigational hazards
The run down to Suva, across the southern Pacific, through Torres, through the eastern islands of the NEI and up to the Philippines was not a straight forward routine voyage for anyone. It made for difficult navigation virtually all the way, weaving through a seemingly never-ending maze of islands, cays, reefs and shoals, some of which were not properly charted and without much in the way of navigational aids - very few lighthouses and RDF beacons.

3.Weather conditions
November to April is Tropical Cyclone (like Hurricane or Typhoon)season in the southwestern Pacific . Weather reporting for this region was at the time not as well developed as it is today and severe storms could be expected to blow up without warning. PensacolaCo passed through at the height of summer in these parts and sudden squalls with heavy rain and reduced visibility would have been experienced.

3. Logistics
I'm not sure if all the vessels in the convoy had the range to make it all the way to Manila non-stop. Of course there was a stopover at Suva to take on fuel and water but this was only a little over a third of the way (2780 nm from PH) to Manila. We do not know if PensacolaCo was directed to have another stopover - at Port Moresby or Ambon perhaps. Would fuel and water have been available?

4. German Raiders
As previously discussed, German commerce raiders, was indeed considered a real threat - the very reason for a cruiser escort. PENSACOLA would not have been troubled much by a lone raider but would surely have preferred not having to deal with one. Once the convoy arrived in Suva, the world would have known all about it. Even if the men were not allowed ashore, the arrival of the convoy would not have gone unnoticed and the secret would have been out. It is likely that the Germans or Japanese had spies on the islands and would have relayed the information to the IJN. Even if a German auxiliary cruiser was not going to confront USS PENSACOLA, it could have mined any of the passages between the islands in the path of the convoy. I'm not talking about a what-if situation here, just pointing out another threat that PensacolaCo would have had to be prepared for by taking the Southern Route.

It's abundantly clear then that the Suva/Torres route was going to be long, expensive, difficult and dangerous - understandable in time of war like with for example,the US East coast/Mediterranean convoys that ran through the Panama Canal, down the Pacific coast of South America, across the Atlantic to South Africa and then up to the Suez Canal to avoid U-Boats in the mid-Atlantic. But for the US there was no war yet.

If indeed the Pensacola Convoy was directed to take the Torres Strait route from the outset, perhaps it formed part of a pre-war plan to get supplies to an isolated Philippines, not accessible from the East and Operation Plum was a trial run for future Manila-bound convoys. It should be noted that BLOEMFONTEIN did the trip from San Francisco via Brisbane, Torres Strait and Thursday Island up to Manila in August 1941. And along with this theory, was Ambon part of the plan? I know that the NEI government requested RAAF reinforcements on 5 December 1941. Air cover for the convoys perhaps?

Regards,

Jacques
In all of this talk--much too much of it--a single meaningful question is embedded, and although not at all well phrased & quite ambiguous, part of it can be answered definitively:

"...So, how is it that the Pensacola convoy was directed to take the route through Torres Strait - from what we do know, not because of the attack on Pearl Harbor but because of a decision made sometime before the convoy departed from Hawaii?"

1) Yes, I believe the decision on routing predated the Pearl Harbor attacks.

2) Suggestions: Think Australia. Then think the NEI.

Mthw/dmk
Quote
Share