National Geographic : 1945 Dec
Winning the War of Supply BY F. BARROWS COLTON S EVER before in history," said Gen eral Somervell to me, "has any nation fought so vast a war so far from home." That is the key to an amazing story that now can be fully told. It is a tremendous epic of geography this story of how the United States was able to send armies, fleets, and air squadrons to the farthermost places of the earth to fight, and keep them supplied with all the tools of war; across the seven seas, through countries dev astated by fighting, and into strange lands where no American in uniform had ever set foot before. While the war was still on, you seldom heard much about supply. The men who did the job worked quietly, unglamorously, often secretly. But without the vast machinery of supply, all the courage and sacrifice of our gallant fighting men would have been in vain. You remember Kipling's lines about the old British wars in India: When the cartridges ran out, You could hear the front-files shout, "Hi! Ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!" In this war, too, that shout went up, from fronts around the world, for ammunition, food, and countless other things. To answer the call, or, better still, to antici pate it, our Army and Navy set up a network of supply routes that stretched around the whole globe, by land, sea, and air, over which we sent our fighters a constant flow of dif ferent supply items-1,000,000 for the Army, 700,000 for the Navy-on a scale never even conceived before. Supply Line 7,500 Miles Long Once, in the unexplored mountains of Luzon, an American combat team encircling a Japa nese outpost got so far from its base that Filipino bearers had to hike' a week and a half over rough jungle trails, carrying ammu nition, rations, and even safe drinking water on their backs to the troops. Those sweating bearers formed the last link in an unbroken chain of supply stretching back across 7,500 miles to a fast freight roar ing through the night across the Rocky Moun tains, hurrying to catch a convoy loading in San Francisco Bay. Links in the chain between were hundreds of cargo ships, shuttling .between mainland ports and forward bases; lonely island step pingstones where bored and homesick service troops labored 12 hours a day, seven days a week, to unload incoming ships and load out going ones; colossal supply dumps where you could walk for miles among huge piles of boxes, bales, and packing cases, and long rows of cannon, trucks, and tanks, with everything arranged almost as neatly and as easy to find as in a department store. Picture the ways this vast chain kept mov ing night and day. Boxes of machine-gun am munition would roll off the assembly line of an arsenal, into a boxcar, and join a train that sped across Midwest prairies and through mountain gorges while tracks were cleared ahead and crack passenger trains waited on sidings for it to pass. For a solid month they would ride across the Pacific in the packed hold of a Liberty ship, go ashore in a wallowing "duck" through the surf off a tropical island, and be stacked in the jungle under camouflaging palm fronds. At last, a sweating ammunition carrier would lug them stealthily through the night, past Jap snipers to the waiting guns. Then, per haps just in time, the slugs would spit death at a banzai charge. It will help you visualize the tremendous job of supply if you remember that the average troop or cargo ship could make only from 5 to 10 round trips a year across the At lantic to our bases in Britain. And on the far wider Pacific a ship could make even fewer round trips a year; so it took many more ships to supply the same number of men in the Japanese war than in Europe. A supply ship for the China-Burma-India Theater could make only two round trips a year. Hawaii, 2,400 miles from San Francisco, still was farther away from the shooting in the Pacific war than New York or Washington ever were from the battles on the Western Front. Supply for the U. S. Army was ably handled by the Army Service Forces, under direction of Gen. Brehon B. Somervell. Navy supply, equally efficient but less centralized, was divided among several different bureaus. Pipelines Would Span Atlantic Four Times To keep supplies moving for our faraway campaigns, American soldiers built and ran railroads on five continents and laid pipelines totaling 11,000 miles in length. Army Engi neers and Navy Seabees literally "changed the face of Nature" on Pacific islands, built complete, new, modern seaports where only wilderness had existed before (page 729).