National Geographic : 1947 Jun
How One of The Society's Maps Saved a Precious Cargo Many million National Geographic maps went to war between the attack on Pearl Harbor and V-J Day. Extensively used for strategic planning by Army, Navy, and Air Forces, they also played a providential role by affording timely assistance to pilots and navigators, especially in the earlier phases of the war when our military forces had not available the superb detail maps later pro vided by the U. S. Army Map Service, the Hydrographic Office of the Navy Department, and the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Eloquent of such an instance is the follow ing letter from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, wartime Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and now Chief of Naval Operations: Navy Department Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Washington 25, D. C. April 7, 1947 Dr. Gilbert Grosvenor, President The National Geographic Society Washington, D. C. Dear Dr. Grosvenor: In the early fall of 1942 it was necessary that the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, attend conferences in New Caledonia with the Com mander South Pacific Force and representatives of General MacArthur. On the conclusion of these meetings, in late September, CincPac and party proceeded to Guadalcanal to review the situation there with General Vandegrift. You may recall that our position on Guadal canal was extremely critical at this time, with little more than the perimeter of an airfield being held by our Marines, and several months of savage fighting to follow before the enemy was dislodged from the central Solomons. The trip to Guadalcanal was somewhat event ful, and since your Society had an important part in its successful outcome, I felt you would have a personal interest in the details which I record below. Espiritu Santo, about halfway between Noumea and Guadalcanal, was then our most advanced base in the South Pacific, with a limited develop ment for aircraft and surface vessels. It was the target of sporadic but small-scale aerial at tack by the Japanese. The next and only friendly stop on the Solomons route was Guadalcanal, some 550 miles to the northwest. Guadalcanal Island itself, with the exception of the small Marine foothold, was in control of the Japanese. In these circumstances one had no choice but to make sure of arrival at the correct destination. My party proceeded to Espiritu via naval sea plane and there transferred to an Army B-17 for the flight to General Vandegrift's headquarters. This procedure was followed because of the supe rior speed and defensive characteristics of the B-17. It transpired, however, that the flight crew assigned for the last stage of the trip had not previously covered the route and perhaps was not too well prepared for the over-water navigation involved. In any case, some time after a landfall should have been made on San Cristobal Island, it was acknowledged by the pilot that his flight track was in error by a sizable margin to the south ward, and that he was shaping his course to the north to pick up the island chain. Additionally, the pilot was equipped with but one small-scale chart of the Solomons area, show ing only the larger islands, and positive identifica tion of location would prove a decidedly difficult matter. Further to complicate affairs, we now entered an area of continuous heavy rain with greatly reduced visibility. At this point it was our good fortune that the Marine officer on my staff followed the practice of always carrying a National Geographic map in his briefcase. The Map of the Pacific Ocean. which was put into use forthwith, included an inset of the Solomons showing the smaller as well as the larger islands. On subsequently picking up an island of the Solomons group, and after considerable flying about at low altitude to identify the coastline and adjacent small islands, it was possible to establish our position at the northwest end of San Crist6bal. The remainder of the trip to Hen derson Field was continued at minimum altitude. hugging the shore line of Guadalcanal Island to avoid losing land contact in the driving rain. The enclosed group photograph was taken the following afternoon, just prior to departure from Guadalcanal. It is a pleasure to confirm to you, even at this late date, the details of an episode which had a distinctly personal flavor for all persons in the plane and in which the National Geographic So ciety lent an unexpected but most welcome help ing hand. Needless to say, this was but one of a great number of occasions when your maps proved invaluable to the forces in the Pacific. Your charts were in wide service in planning work, particularly for areas which were not ade quately covered by the official maps available. With my warmest personal regards to you and the other officers of the National Geographic So ciety, I am Very sincerely yours, C. W. NIMITZ. Fleet Admiral. U. S. N.