By Gina Nichols, Archivist/Head of Collections Department, U.S. Navy Seabee Museum
By now we know why the Seabees were created, but in creating a new type of fighting force came a new challenge: how does the Navy equip the men that are meant to equip the fleet?
During World War II the Navy began an extensive advance base construction program that spanned the globe, but which also created massive planning, construction, and logistical problems. The earliest shipments of men, materiel, and supplies to Bora Bora and Efate were special tailor-made shipments requiring detailed planning, packing, and shipping half-way across the world. To simplify this enormous task, the Navy created functional components, which sounds like boring Navy terminology, but in reality is a naval logistics tool used to streamline and accelerate the “island-hopping” advance across the Pacific.
The issue of how to man and supply more than 250 different field activities, such as communications, hospital, camp, PT, and ship repair units, rose to the surface as Navy suppliers were competing with each other for materials to outfit each type of activity. Early in 1942, the Chief of Naval Operations established a planning program based on each type of activity’s needs. The material and equipment required for each type of activity were called allowance lists and consisted of all the men, materiel, and supplies needed to run each type of activity.
How Do You Supply the Fleet??
Once the list of all rates, supplies, and materiel were created, it became a functional component; sort of a “kit” consisting of all required personnel by rate and materiel needed for a specific function. The system of components became a highly-developed “mail-order catalog” for the Navy. Methods of assembly, training and moving were streamlined and more orderly. Cargo was palletized or crated with markings defining their level of importance to the mission. Functional components were then packaged together to create large base commands which would ship all at once as a cohesive command. Upon arrival at “Island X”, the unit was fully prepared to support itself independently as it had all the necessary supplies from shoelaces to D-7 dozers and materials to build a radio station.
The first major type of base to emerge was the LION, a naval operating base designed to be about the size of Pearl Harbor prior to the war. A LION consisted of 73 components, over 8,000 men, and 129,000 measurement tons of equipment and materiel. A CUB was approximately one-fourth the size of a LION. In early 1943, LION One became the first major unit to deploy to the Pacific under the functional component system. Destined for “Base Button” at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, the command went out in five echelons and took three months to unload.
Major air bases were known as an OAK with smaller air bases about one-fourth the size of it known as an ACORN. Later units, such as Group Pacific (GROPAC), Combat Aircraft Service Unit (CASU), and Patrol Aircraft Service Unit (PATSU) were developed. These units provided harbor and waterfront facilities as well as defense; carrier aircraft service to support carrier air groups; fleet air wing headquarters; and other base facilities. In rapid succession, smaller units shipped out to establish bases on hundreds of islands throughout the Pacific.
The functional component system worked so well that the Bureau of Yards and Docks created kits for different types of supplies and materiel. For example, rather than individually ordering a hammer, you would order a specific kit for say a Carpenter’s Mate (now known as a Builder) which contained various tools needed to perform their work. If one of them broke, backups were readily available. This streamlined the supply chain, supported naval forces and maintained forward momentum in advanced positions.
The system of cooperation between the Navy’s Bureaus and armed forces worked out so well and was of such great value for fighting a global war that it was decided to maintain the system. The National Security Act of 1947 provides for the unification of the Armed Forces at a high level, binds them together, and provides for joint logistics planning and actions of all types.
Advance Base Planning and the Functional Component System. [Unpublished] n.d.
Bureau of Yards and Docks. “Advance Base Department Activities, P-248.” Navy Department. June 1945.
Chief of Naval Operation, Shore Establishment and Development and Maintenance Division. “The Functional Component System: What It Is, and How It Works.” [Unpublished] September 1950
Timmick, Ralph .C. “The Naval Advanced Base Functional Component Program.” The Navy Civil Engineer, Vol. 3, No. 7. (July 1962).
United States. 1947. Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office.
United States. 1966. National security act of 1947: (Public law 253, 80th Congress, July 26, 1947 (61 Stat. 495)) as amended through September 20, 1966. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.