Building a global navy: U.S. naval logistics, 1775-1941

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University of New Brunswick


By the end of World War II, the United States Navy (USN) was a juggernaut that had swept the Imperial Japanese Navy from the sea. While there are many reasons for this victory, one was the Japanese failure to account for naval logistics properly. Unfortunately, naval historians have made the same mistake concerning the USN. They have steadily paid less and less heed to naval logistics as World War II V-J Day inexorably slipped further back in time and memory. However, recent tensions between the United States and China have spurred renewed interest, which is appropriate given that any armed conflict would involve naval combat at the end of long sea lines of communication. This dissertation demonstrates that naval logistics was the true indicator of the United States Navy’s ability to be a blue-water navy capable of projecting power globally and brings naval logistics back into the general historical discussion. The USN struggled to improve its logistics for seventeen decades, from its inception to the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Pacific War would also be a harsh taskmaster, as there was much to learn about naval logistics in the hard crucible of war. However, the Navy had laid the intellectual foundation and created the necessary equipment to develop the massive wartime logistical system that would allow successful combat operations across thousands of miles of open ocean. This dissertation demonstrates several key challenges inherent for a navy to operate globally. First, a transoceanic navy is expensive and has a long build lead time. Second, the Pacific Ocean is as vast today as it was in the 1940s, but today’s technology has “shrunk” the great ocean in the sense that it takes less time to traverse. Finally, although warships and the naval logistics systems necessary to support them continue to evolve, there are timeless aspects to waging transoceanic wars. Existing bases, advanced bases, and auxiliaries are essential for operational reach, endurance, and tempo, and they determine the success and persistence of early operations in war.