Chapter 9: Morale-Building Services
Besides procuring, storing, and distributing supplies and equipment, the QMC also performed other services that were important to the combat forces it supported. It baked bread, fumigated and laundered clothing, provided baths, assembled, classified, and repaired worn-out and discarded items, and performed all duties connected with the care of the dead except one, collection of bodies on the battlefield. Of these services only two—baking bread and repairing salvaged items—had supply connotations.1 The others were significant chiefly because they promoted sound morale and good health. Care of the dead had in addition a sentimental value, for it represented a determined effort even under battle conditions to carry out time-honored funerary customs.
In the peacetime Regular Army the Quartermaster services were mainly furnished under contract by commercial bakers, launderers, repairers, and morticians. But in wartime, civilian contractors were beyond the reach of combat forces, and Quartermaster companies were formed to supply these services. In December 1941 the creation of these units had just started, and for more than a year few were ready for overseas use. The first fully trained units went to North Africa. For more than two years the War Department sent scarcely any bakery, laundry, bath, salvage, or graves registration companies to the Pacific. If field forces operating there obtained these services during this period, it was only through improvisation. When appropriate units did arrive, they were too few in number. They had been set up in expectation of utilizing large numbers of civilian helpers, but since there was an almost complete lack of suitable workers outside the British dominions and the Philippines, they could not operate in the contemplated manner.
Equipment not always well adapted to Pacific conditions proved another hampering factor. With the exception of bakery and graves registration outfits, these services depended mostly on large, heavy equipment carried in trailer-vans. This equipment was often so cumbersome that it could not be transported over difficult terrain and of necessity remained in one place, regardless of the location of the troops it was meant to support. Much of this equipment, moreover, could not be adapted for use by operating units that were necessarily small because of the wide dispersion of troops and because of the tactical exigencies of jungle and island-hopping warfare. In amphibious fighting, when assault forces of varying sizes sometimes landed on separate beaches and fought more or less independently of each other, inability to break up equipment for operation at several points was particularly embarrassing. For all these reasons
units employing heavy trailer-carried machines could seldom function with maximum efficiency even when they were located not far from the battle area. The practice of keeping that area as free as possible of noncombat elements naturally forbade the operation of service units there. If activities pertinent to a service had to be conducted in the battle zone, they were delegated to infantrymen who were assigned such tasks as the collection and the transportation of abandoned articles and human remains to assembly points where salvage and graves registration detachments picked them up.
Of the special Quartermaster services none was more useful than provision of fresh bread. Fresh bread, many field commanders maintained, was the most important component of the ration. It represented about 10 percent of the food consumed by U.S. troops and was the only major element of the ration normally served three times every day. Soldiers probably resented its absence from a meal more than that of any other food. But the frequent servings expected by them required processing in the field, something not necessary for other ration components, which came already prepared for cooking or heating in mess kitchens. Processing, in turn, demanded a specialized organization and elaborate equipment. Bakery companies met both these needs. One company was capable, mechanically, of supplying about 40,000 troops at a daily rate of 8 ounces per man. It employed sixteen dough-mixing machines and thirty-two gasoline-burning ovens, called M1942 field bake ovens, which represented a vast improvement over the wood-burning type of 1917. The 1942 version was a readily portable model that permitted a company to be broken up into sixteen sections. Each section had two ovens, and each operated independently of the others. This flexibility, so much greater than in most other service units, was perhaps the outstanding feature of the bakery company.2
Disadvantages as well as advantages were involved in the use of the M1942 ovens. They were hard to clean and keep in repair. They broke down repeatedly because of lack of spare parts, and, like other pieces of baking equipment, were difficult to ship.3 Before an island jump was made, a company had to stop production, crate its thirty-two ovens, sixteen dough-mixers, and other utensils for forward movement, and obtain thirty-six 2½-ton trucks or their equivalent for transporting this cargo to the docks. Sometimes low shipping and landing priorities delayed its departure. On arriving at the combat area bakers had to locate, unpack, and reassemble the equipment and once more obtain trucks and set up an operating center. During this whole period, lasting for weeks, no bakery bread was produced. If combat units wanted bread, they had to bake it themselves.4
Quartermasters in the European theater, where British mobile baking equipment rather than M1942 ovens was generally used, contended—probably correctly—that
employment of the British unit would shorten such costly interruptions. This unit was a heavy, self-contained, machine-operated bakery, with three 2-deck ovens, capable of a maximum output of 30,000 pounds a day. It required no crating for shipment, was moved easily by trailer, and was loaded and discharged quickly. Its operation took fewer men and less gasoline than did that of the M1942 oven.5 Though it could be shipped in less time than the U.S. oven, it could not be broken down for operation by independent sections. To Pacific quartermasters this was an overriding objection. While conceding that British-equipped bakeries were probably superior for use with mass armies fighting in continental areas, they maintained that only American-equipped bakeries could furnish the large number of small sections essential in island warfare.6
Until mid-1943 there were no bakery companies whatever in the South and Southwest Pacific. In Australia their absence did not deprive soldiers of bread, for adequate quantities were obtained from commercial bakeries under reverse lend-lease contracts or from civilian bakeries used as Quartermaster establishments.7 In areas to the north the situation was far different. The provision of bread there became chiefly a responsibility of the regular mess cooks who, though they lacked standard baking equipment, used field ranges to turn out at least limited quantities of a reasonably palatable product. Advance areas, particularly those of the Fifth Air Force, occasionally received bread flown in from rear bases.8 When bakery companies did begin to arrive, the problem of providing bread was appreciably alleviated, but it was still impossible to supply the prescribed quantities in advance and forward areas. A few companies, which came without equipment, were obliged to delay the start of their operations or resort to time-consuming and inefficient improvisations.9
There were in addition other hampering factors. The low gluten content of Australian flour and particularly the severe shortage of milk, yeast, and baking powder in New Guinea made it difficult to produce loaves of the proper size and flavor. In July 1944 the Sixth Army reported that scarcity of yeast and baking powder had reduced its average bread issue to five ounces per man per day in contrast to the prescribed eight ounces. While inadequate issues caused by these shortages were not entirely typical, they occurred rather often, especially in advance areas.10 Tropical conditions also diminished production. In hot, humid weather yeast was overly active and, if not cooled. swiftly deteriorated; with refrigerators almost unobtainable, losses reached substantial figures. Proper storage for flour was likewise seldom available, and at times half
or more of this indispensable ingredient spoiled.11
Still another hindrance to full production was the absence of an abundant supply of pure water. Many streams were contaminated, and there was no piped water, such as forces operating in thickly populated countries found almost everywhere. Cans were at first virtually the only water-carrying equipment authorized by the War Department, but they were too small to provide a satisfactory method of delivery. Late in the war large collapsible tanks and a 250-gallon trailer were added to company equipment, but some observers thought that three more trailers were needed in order to give one to each platoon.12
Operational plans usually assigned bakeries higher shipping and landing priorities than they gave to laundry, bath, and salvage companies. They also tried to provide an adequate number of bakeries but the constant shortage of appropriate units generally prevented this. Nevertheless combat forces on the whole fared rather well. In the fighting on New Guinea bakeries were at work within a few days after the initial assaults had been launched. On Leyte the first one arrived on A plus 4, but it had no baking equipment and was obliged to use the most readily obtainable substitutes, old 1917 wood-burning ovens, ordinarily considered archaic. Wood for these ovens was hard to secure, not because timber was scarce but because the extra men required to cut and haul it could not be spared from other duties. Despite this problem and roads so poor as to be at times completely impassable, hospital patients and combat soldiers were each provided with 7 ounces of fresh bread daily and other troops with 5.6 ounces. Elsewhere, chiefly because of late landings, operational experience was occasionally less favorable. In Mindanao no bakery bread was issued for more than a month. Most troops on Okinawa waited for six to ten weeks before they received any. As late as L plus 45 the daily issue even to combat soldiers and to the ill and wounded averaged only about 4.8 ounces a day; not until L plus 100 did all troops receive the standard quantity.13
When comparatively large issues were made, whether in combat areas or at rear bases, the explanation was usually the continuous operation of all available equipment. Hard-pressed bakeries did not confine their activities to the eight to sixteen-hour daily range normally found outside the Pacific but made bread twenty-four hours a day.14 Constant operation was almost customary in the Southwest Pacific where a unit often supplied double the number of men it was supposed to. At Biak seven bakery sections, set up to care for 17,500 men, landed on D plus one and immediately began round-the-clock operations. Four months later, they had lost only four days’ production—one day for welding equipment
peppered with Japanese shot and three days because they had no flour. At that time 56,000 troops, or more than three times rated capacity, were being supplied.15 Almost equally remarkable records were achieved at rear bases. In July 1944, for instance, baking was being done at Finschhafen for 94,000 soldiers by a unit supposed to supply only 40,000.16
Overtime work did not in itself provide an adequate supply. If enough equipment was not available, units had to improvise substitutes to prevent a complete halt of production. Even lack of ovens did not necessarily mean that bakers did not bake. This fact is illustrated by three detachments, each of fifteen men, which were sent to the New Hebrides to supply 16,000 troops but found that they had no ovens or dough mixers and few other utensils. They employed scrap lumber to fashion mixers and clean clothing to proof loaves. They scoured the islands for ovens and finally located several old Dutch ones imported at some long-forgotten date. Since there were too few of these valuable finds to fill all demands, they devised substitutes from 55-gallon oil drums, an expedient occasionally used elsewhere. The front of a drum was cut out and a steel plate welded into it as a shelf on which bread could be baked. In the absence of pans the dough was put directly on the plate. The stopgap ovens each held about eight 2-pound loaves. They burned out in two or three weeks, but new ones were speedily made.17
Bakers were almost equally proficient in the improvisation of substitutes for scarce ingredients. On Kiriwina Island, off northeastern New Guinea, they used fermented coconut milk in place of yeast. When there was not enough flour at the Guadalcanal base, they used either 60 pounds of raisins to 100 pounds of flour or half flour and half wheat cereal. Under similar conditions cooks of the 41st Division found ground up hard biscuits suitable. At Saidor and elsewhere in New Guinea bakers, lacking water, drilled wells.18
By ingenuity and almost constant utilization of available ovens, then, bread was provided. It is difficult to see how a greater production could have been obtained from such limited resources. Under conditions like those in the Pacific the only way to increase the supply quickly would probably have been through the issue to field forces of bread baked and canned by commercial contractors in the United States. After the war there were, indeed, some who favored this idea. They argued that the canning of bread was, obviously, the modern way to supply that product. It would, they contended, save manpower and shipping space and insure a smooth flow of supply at less cost. The Army would have to give up baking just as the American family had. But opponents of the plan maintained that there was no substitute for freshly baked bread as a builder of morale. The canned variety, they pointed out, became moldy and was inferior in taste and flavor and so less acceptable to soldiers. Moreover, there would actually be no saving in shipping space, for, excluding water, unbaked bread ingredients occupied considerably less space than they did when baked and enlarged by
fermentation and by the addition of air and water.19 In the end it was determined to make no basic change in the system of supplying bread in the field. The best solution to the problem of inadequate issues seemed to be more and better baking equipment—equipment that would be made available more promptly than it had been in World War II.
Laundry units, which carried and operated their essential equipment, such as washers, tumblers, and water heaters, on heavy trailers, supposedly furnished the services required by hospitals and by individuals in the field. In the Pacific they actually did this for hospitals, which had priority, but there were too few of them to do much work for individual soldiers. The number of pieces handled for troops, though greatly exceeding that handled for hospitals, nevertheless represented only a small percentage of the total number in need of cleaning. If the ordinary unit of two trailers worked sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, each trailer still served only 3,000 soldiers a week at the normal rate of about twenty-five pieces a man. In many places, moreover, no trailers were available. Even if they were, the difficulty of hauling them over rough terrain often prevented their location at sites that permitted maximum service. It is not strange therefore that in most parts of the Pacific laundries accepted individual wash only at the low weekly rate of six to eight pieces a man.20
Once a tactical organization had been alerted for combat activity, laundry service, like bakery service, ceased—frequently for six to eight weeks while laundrymen prepared for and made the trip and set up a new installation. Trailers ordinarily arrived some days after the initial assault had been delivered, but even then they could not be landed if trails had not been developed on shore. They were, in fact, immobilized until engineers had built a passable road to a point with sufficient water for cleaning purposes.21 The extent to which some organizations lacked service is illustrated by the 37th Division, which participated in the campaigns for New Georgia, Bougainville, and Luzon. In July 1945 its quartermaster reported that during his three years overseas the division “had no laundry service at all in the field.” It enjoyed, he added, “only one two months’ period during which laundry facilities were available for about 10 out of 100 officers of Field Grade. Our blankets were laundered once in three years.”22
While not many organizations fared as badly as did the 37th Division, infantry troops in general were obliged to devote much time to washing their own garments. In the Southwest Pacific between February and June 1945 it was estimated that such activity consumed about 3,000,000 man-hours a week. Had eighteen additional laundry companies been furnished, the same work could have been done in about 205,000 man-hours.23 Whenever portable laundry machines were obtainable, they
provided a reasonably satisfactory means of self-service, but in zones of active fighting they could not be widely utilized. A few organizations employed unit funds to buy household washing machines in the United States, and some ingenious soldiers even improvised washers out of oil drums by rigging jeep motors to revolve them. But most troops simply used soap and a scrub brush.24
Troops stationed at bases below the equator were not much better off than those in operational areas. Commercial laundries were available in the two British dominions, but even in these countries not all military requirements could be filled.25 The New Guinea bases were much worse off. Here there were no laundry units at all until well into 1943. At the end of June 1944 the platoons of three recently arrived companies were divided between the bases and the Sixth Army, but their manpower and equipment were so inadequate that even at the bases, except for Milne Bay, they could do washing only for hospitals.26 About this time seventeen laundry platoons, specially designed for hospital service, arrived. They provided welcome manpower but did not mitigate the shortage of equipment, for, being set up to employ washers regularly furnished with prefabricated hospitals made in the zone of interior, they brought no washers of their own. This was a serious oversight as Australian sources were unable to supply the missing equipment. Not until washers hastily requisitioned from the United States arrived late in the year did the hospital platoons prove of much value.
Large “fixed laundries,” capable of caring for 5,000 troops at the peacetime rate of twenty-five garments a soldier, were rarely set up at SWPA island bases, for these bases were looked upon as merely temporary establishments. In all New Guinea the only sizable installation of this type was the one at Milne Bay. It turned out about 2,400 pounds of dry wash an hour, a production so substantial that in the first half of 1944 Milne Bay alone among New Guinea bases laundered clothing for individuals.27
At the outset the South Pacific, like New Guinea, had no laundry units. In early 1943 a few mobile types arrived, and toward the close of that year three fixed installations were built—a 10,000-man-capacity unit in New Caledonia and two 5,000-man-capacity units, one in the Fijis and another in Espiritu Santo.28 In the Central Pacific, mobile laundries were employed almost entirely for hospitals. Five fixed installations, three of which had been built after Pearl Harbor, served individuals. Operating only one eight-hour shift a day, they could do laundering for about 50,000 troops.29 Their labor force was drawn from local civilians who were paid at rates somewhat below the
wartime Hawaiian average for comparable work. Because of this discrepancy there was a heavy labor turnover, which caused a constant shortage of experienced operatives. “Special assignments,” such as assistance in outfitting entire divisions, further delayed laundering for individuals. Usually, soldiers’ wash was not returned for about two weeks. Most troops preferred commercial firms, which charged more than Quartermaster laundries, but which lost fewer articles and returned bundles sooner and in cleaner and more wearable condition. In December 1944 it was estimated that such firms did more than half the washing for troops in Honolulu.30 A comparable situation existed in other localities where troops could find civilians to clean their clothing. In the liberated Philippines outside Manila in July 1945, when military laundries were still scarce, 90 percent of the soldiers had their soiled garments cleaned by Filipino women.31
Army service in general provoked criticism similar to that in Hawaii and the Philippines. Late in 1944 a survey of six Pacific Ocean Areas bases, which on the whole were better supplied with Quartermaster laundries than most parts of the Pacific, showed that, while these units served about 78 percent of the troops, there were many complaints about the inferior work. The most common objection was the frequent failure to return all pieces. Forty-five percent of the soldiers questioned declared that items were missing the last time their bundles were returned. Oahu had the highest proportion of men with this grievance, 65 percent, and Guadalcanal the lowest, 20 percent. Authors of the survey pointed out as a possible explanation of the relatively slight loss on Guadalcanal that this base did not employ the standard pin method of individual identification. Instead, six to eight men put their dirty clothes in a single bundle, which made one washer load; when the bundle was returned, each man picked out his own belongings. In general the pin method was not a suitable means of identification. The reason, the surveyors suggested, may have been that the shortage of manpower made it impossible to form a group of specialists with no duties other than the sorting and marking of clothing. They noted that men who performed these tasks usually also operated washers and dryers and had too little time to carry out any of their duties efficiently.32 Seventy percent of the soldiers who were asked if some other kind of laundry had proved superior to Quartermaster service gave affirmative answers. They endorsed at least one of these alternatives—civilian or Navy establishments, washerwomen, or “myself.”33
Though some of the criticism leveled at Quartermaster laundries reflected mainly the time-honored propensity of soldiers to find fault with their lot, there was ample justification for many of the complaints. After inspecting the Pacific bases in the spring of 1945, Quartermaster General Gregory declared that “the poorest job being done by the Quartermaster Corps” was its laundry service. Noting that troops “after a comparatively short period of fighting” particularly needed the boost given to
morale by clean apparel, he urged the increased utilization of fixed laundries as a remedy.34 During the following summer an installation of this type, able to care for 15,000 men, was completed at Saipan, but the poor water supply prevented its operation.35 At this time several other isolated bases had authorized fixed laundries, but the higher priorities given to more urgent projects prevented the construction of these establishments.36
Even had a larger number of fixed laundries been built, they would have benefited chiefly only the troops at rear bases. Combat soldiers would have derived no advantage. As it was, individual service remained at the end of the war, as it had been at the outset, the most conspicuous weakness of the laundry service. In the South Pacific between 1 July 1943 and 30 June 1944, the longest period covered by adequate figures, only 66,000 troops were cared for even at the low rate of six pieces a week.37 Statistics for the last eight months of hostilities in the Southwest Pacific reveal that in January 1945 some 775,000 pieces were washed every week for hospitals, which had about 38,000 beds, but only about 125,000 pieces for troops. This very low figure stemmed principally from the complete or partial stoppage of laundry activities in combat areas. Between February and May more units came into operation, and the number of pieces handled more than doubled to an average of 1,900,000 a week. Even then full service was supplied to only about 40,000 men, a bare 6 percent of the total number in the theater, and of these men few were combat soldiers.38
Progress toward better service for infantrymen was nevertheless being made as the war drew to a close. An OQMG observer wrote that at Okinawa “for the first time” in a Pacific offensive fairly satisfactory laundering was done for individuals. But even there minimum service could not be started until about L plus 50 when the first laundry unit arrived. It adopted the Guadalcanal system of having small groups turn in their soiled garments in a single bundle and so materially simplified its task. Shortly before fighting ceased, a second unit came into operation and made it possible to furnish a certain amount of service to 70 percent of the troops.39
Had the war in the Pacific lasted longer, the arrival of units from Europe would doubtless have led to vastly improved individual service. The fact that on the whole this service remained unsatisfactory until the very end suggests that the QMC may have made a mistake in giving the few available laundries cumbersome equipment that could not be transported readily and that required operatives with considerable skill and experience. Perhaps it should have given more thought to the large-scale issue, particularly to combat organizations, of an easily portable washer that any soldier could have operated. Such a machine would almost surely have produced better results
than did the expedients actually employed in the field. Certainly, the frequent utilization of household washers implied that similar machines, better fitted to field conditions, might have been at least a partial solution.
Bath, Sterilization, and Fumigation Operations
In War Department theory, if not always in Army practice, bath, sterilization, and fumigation units worked in conjunction with nearby laundries, which washed and reissued clothes turned in for sterilization or fumigation. Their major function, again in War Department theory, was ceaseless war on head and body lice. Wherever these insects were prevalent, bath units were responsible for their eradication. In France during World War I, lice, facetiously dubbed “cooties,” had infested crowded trenches and barracks. They were not merely a nuisance; they were a never-ending menace to health. The body louse, for example, transmitted trench fever, a common World War I ailment characterized by muscular pains and sudden, recurrent fevers. Elimination of infestation hinged upon the ability of soldiers to keep themselves and their clothes clean. In 1917 and 1918, soiled garments were “deloused” by exposure for about 15 minutes to steam that had been heated to a temperature of about 40 degrees above the Fahrenheit boiling point. To carry out this task, sterilization centers were set up in France and operated by division quartermasters wherever large bodies of troops were stationed. While clothing was being cleaned, the soldiers themselves were bathing in neighboring showers. As they emerged from their baths, they were issued clothes freshly sterilized and cleaned by neighboring laundries.40
Between the two world wars no need existed for an agency that would carry out military sterilization of the 1918 type. Not until the hectic days of 1941 and 1942 brought the prospect of renewed battle on lice was such an organization—the Quartermaster sterilization and bath company—created. Equipped along World War I lines, it was designed to operate with laundry companies in combat zones and with salvage repair companies in rear areas. Its most important piece of equipment was a heavy trailer-van, which carried water-heating machinery, a dozen showers, and a large sterilization chamber. In early tests this vehicle proved much too ponderous for easy movement on poor or congested roads. The ensuing demand for greater mobility and the decision reached in late 1942 that methyl bromide was a better disinfesting agent than steam led to the establishment of a new and more mobile unit, the fumigation and bath company. This development did not mean the complete abandonment of the old companies; some of them continued to be employed so that benefit might be derived from the vans and sterilizers that had already been bought.41
The fumigation and bath outfit had the same functions as the sterilization company, but it differed from the older unit in its use not only of methyl bromide but also of
a collapsible fumigation chamber transported on a comparatively small truck instead of a bulky sterilization chamber transported on a heavy trailer-van. The fumigation chamber was intended, primarily, for employment in combat areas. In rear areas a specially developed rubber bag, about twenty-five by sixty inches, was used for delousing. The clothes of six to eight soldiers, together with an ampul of methyl bromide, were placed inside the bag, which was then sealed. The ampul was broken from the outside, and in about forty-five minutes the released gas fumigated the garments.42
World War II actualities soon dispelled the belief that large-scale delousing operations would be required. Conditions overseas were unfavorable to infestation by lice. These insects became most prevalent in static warfare in which large bodies of men lived together for months in dirty, congested quarters; the danger from them was at its height in cold winter weather when soldiers, especially in northern countries, were likely to live in ill-ventilated surroundings. But none of these conditions were common in the open warfare of 1941–45, with its almost constant movement of troops, and there was in consequence slight need for sterilization or fumigation equipment. This was particularly true in the tropical Pacific areas—a fortunate circumstance because they had no bath companies until late 1944.43
It was rather the lack of the bath units carried by these companies that soldiers in the Pacific felt most keenly. Each unit contained twelve to twenty-four showers, and since showers enjoyed tremendous popularity among soldiers, many requests for bath units without fumigation chambers were submitted to the zone of interior. But few arrived, and troops were often obliged to wash themselves in streams, often unsanitary, carry water in buckets to their tents, or even bathe out of a helmet.44 Occasionally, enterprising soldiers improvised hot showers, based on the ever valuable 55-gallon drum. Such improvisation also required a portable air compressor or tire hand pump, steel pipe, valves, nipples, hose, and, finally, ration cans for the shower heads, usually three in number. The first step in the construction of this novel device was to make a rock base open on one side so that a fire could be built under the drum. Next, the shower heads and steel pipe were put together and suspended from a tree or other overhead support. The valve stem and hose connection were then installed. Care was taken to insure that the air pressure in the drum never exceeded twenty pounds; otherwise the container would burst. If an air pump could not be found, a gravity instead of a pressure device might be used. Though highly ingenious, these improvisations were too inconvenient and complicated to be undertaken often. They accordingly offered no real solution for the lack of showers.45
The Leyte campaign saw a fumigation and bath company functioning for the first time in a Pacific offensive. With little need for fumigation activities, this unit operated almost solely as a provider of baths. Since
the Medical Corps found many streams contaminated, the company depended upon a single well dug by the Engineers in a rear area. Even then there was water enough for only half the bath equipment. Never was the company able to operate all its showers at one time. Its activities, moreover, were confined to the area immediately about the well. This situation emphasized the need for the inclusion of a water purifier in the equipment of the unit—a consideration apparently overlooked in the United States where the company was developed, possibly because an ample supply of good water was always available.46
On Okinawa a sterilization as well as a fumigation company was utilized. Neither unit could function according to its stated mission. The eleven-ton trailer-vans of the sterilization outfit could not be hauled over the poor roads and were employed mostly in rear areas and rest camps. One trailer assigned to the 77th Division bogged down in mire three times on its way to an advance position and finally had to be moved by a bulldozer. No effort was made to haul it forward again, and it remained in the same location throughout the campaign although the division progressed far beyond that point. The vans in any event were of little help because they provided troops with only twelve showers. Instead of these units, twenty-four head units, fabricated from discarded materials by the company on Oahu, were set up in squad tents.47 The fumigation company improvised comparable units. In order to serve more soldiers this outfit was divided into four sections rather than the prescribed two platoons. These sections furnished baths for parts of three Army divisions and for thousands of marines, service troops, and Seabees. From late May, when the sections began operations, until the end of June they cared for about 600 men a day. As word spread that showers were available, more and more soldiers took advantage of them. One section served 2,300 troops in a single day in early July. Since men fresh from the front had not enjoyed any opportunity for normal bathing, no limit was imposed on the time that bathers could spend under a shower. Usually, they spent about ten minutes. Enthusiastic bathers gave high praise to the unaccustomed privilege.48
Experience in the Pacific as a whole strongly confirmed, then, the conclusion reached elsewhere that modern warfare demanded, not so much a fumigation company as a bath outfit equipped with mobile shower units that could be set up wherever troops were assembled in substantial numbers. In mid-1944 the numerous complaints regarding the unavailability of showers overseas stimulated the OQMG to start the development of small bath units that could be carried on a 2%2-ton truck and operated by only six men, but no unit of this sort was actually created. The project nevertheless probably indicated the direction in which attempts at innovation would move. Bath companies had proved too large and too inflexible for effective utilization; smaller, more mobile outfits seemed the obvious answer to the insistent call for better bath facilities.49
Salvage and Reclamation
Quartermaster salvage and reclamation operations in the Pacific constituted a helpful means of replenishing stocks of supplies and equipment, particularly in advance areas. Footwear, clothing, and tents were the chief Quartermaster items handled by salvage and reclamation units; foodstuffs were handled, if at all, by the Veterinary Corps. “Salvage” was concerned not only with partly or wholly unserviceable articles; it was concerned also with new or usable articles that had been lost or abandoned in battle zones or elsewhere by U.S. or enemy troops. Since prompt delivery of new supplies and equipment to the Pacific theaters often was not possible, the main purpose of salvage activities was the speedy return of recovered items to American soldiers.50 Another important objective was the shipment to the United States of unserviceable items that would provide raw materials required by American industrial plants to maintain peak production.51 Among these items were scrap iron, including such articles as stove plates and grates; scrap aluminum; irreparable rubber tires, tubes, and life preservers; mismatched shoes and other leather articles; lead and lead battery plates; and nickel electrodes of discarded spark plugs. Financial savings, if, indeed, any were to be achieved, constituted a minor consideration.
Three types of units—salvage collecting companies, salvage repair companies, and salvage depots—were used in theaters of operations. Collecting and repair companies were semimobile units that were usually assigned to corps or to geographical areas and split into sections, each of which operated as an independent organization. Salvage depots were sizable, fixed installations, which alone had the intricate equipment needed for major repairs. They were administered by specially trained repair units and in the Pacific were usually located at base ports. Collecting companies had as their main operating equipment twenty-eight small trucks and trailers for transporting recovered articles. Repair companies depended principally upon two shoe repair, two clothing repair, two textile, and two metal repair trailers; since their equipment was of the simplest sort, they were confined largely to minor repair jobs. Salvage depots carried out the more complicated operations. They rebuilt shoes and replaced component parts of garments and machines. They reclaimed not only Quartermaster items but also property not repaired by other technical services. Though manufacturing was not one of their regular functions, they occasionally made work suits from rejected clothing, and bunks, bins, shelves, and pallets from discarded lumber. Ordinarily, depots were organized into various divisions, some of which specialized in the reclamation of particular items—textile, leather, rubber, canvas, and metal goods—and others in the disposal of irreparable supplies.52
All salvage activities hinged on the ability of collecting units to gather worn-out and discarded articles. In quiet areas these units assembled supplies and equipment turned in by troops at weekly or other designated intervals. In combat areas they picked up articles, non-Quartermaster as well as Quartermaster, that infantrymen in a necessarily unsystematic fashion had
garnered on the battlefield and transported to assembly points. When fighting ceased, collecting troops entered the combat area and with the assistance of labor troops conducted the first careful search for supplies lost or discarded in the heat of battle. As salvage accumulated at the assembly points, collecting teams separated it into the main general classes of supply and removed it to salvage dumps. Here, aided by troops from other technical services, they further divided it into four classes determined by degree of usability. Class “A” comprised new supplies and equipment; Class “B,” serviceable articles in need of minor restoration. These two classes were if possible handled by repair units operating in the field and sent back to the organization from which they had come. Unserviceable materials, which could be made usable by major repairs, formed Class “C.” Class “D” consisted of unreclaimable items—items which could not be restored but which might contain badly needed spare parts or scarce materials. Classes “C” and “D” were both handled by salvage depots.53
In the South and Southwest Pacific lack of sufficient units, qualified technicians, and essential equipment as well as trying physical conditions prevented the performance of salvage activities precisely in accordance with this procedure. It was mid-1943 before the first salvage organizations arrived, and then they came only in small numbers. In the Central Pacific the presence on Oahu of qualified troops, fairly elaborate equipment. and commercial service firms enabled the QMC to carry out routine salvage and reclamation activities pretty much along prescribed lines. Even here there were shortages of special equipment for some tasks. A notable example was the almost complete absence of magnet cranes and other machines needed for the salvage of accumulations of scrap metals, estimated in the summer of 1942 to total 50,000 tons, which were badly required for steel and other metal plants in the United States.54
The South Pacific Area, hard pressed for manpower, placed salvage and reclamation among its most dispensable services, and these activities were at first virtually unknown even in improvised form. During the Guadalcanal campaign few items were recovered from the battlefield, for not many combat soldiers could be spared for this task. Some clothes in need of major renovation, it is true, were collected in anticipation of the early arrival of repair units that never came, but no sustained effort was made to gather such articles despite the danger of a severe clothing shortage among troops none too well clad at the start of the campaign.55 Four months after fighting on Guadalcanal had ceased, salvage operations in the South Pacific were described as “practically nonexistent.”56 There were still no collecting units and but one repair platoon and two repair detachments. Though scantily equipped, these small units furnished the nucleus for the Quartermaster-operated base salvage services that were set up in September 1943 for the benefit of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. The opportune arrival of two collecting companies and additional repair organizations greatly
facilitated the inauguration of these new activities. One collecting company was assigned to the Guadalcanal base, and notwithstanding that it had few trucks and scarcely any equipment for obtaining scrap metals, it “gave the island a clean sweep from one end to the other,” and assembled a huge mass of materials from the former battlefield.57
The only advantage the Southwest Pacific had over its neighbor was that a major segment of its forces was stationed in Australia where the Commonwealth Army for many months collected, stored, and distributed salvage items for the U.S. forces and where commercial firms did much of the repair work on shoes and tents. The employment of civilians for sewing and other reclamation jobs further eased the situation by making possible the establishment of sizable salvage depots. Because of these favorable circumstances the QMC in Australia was able to carry out reclamation activities on a rather substantial scale.58
Until late 1943 the position of the Corps in New Guinea was no better than in the South Pacific. At the advance bases, details composed of both combat and service troops working under the direction of a Quartermaster sergeant collected repairable items from military units at designated times, classified them, and then, since there were no means for making even minor repairs, shipped them to Australia—a wasteful but unavoidable procedure. Weeks ordinarily passed before vessels could be found in New Guinea to transport the recovered supplies. After the Australian bases had received the items, additional weeks elapsed before repair work could be started. These delays postponed for months the reissue of badly needed articles and at times obliged advance bases to distribute so much new equipment in place of that turned in for repair that total issues of some items increased by 50 percent.59
The establishment of repair centers in New Guinea would have made costly reclamation in Australia unnecessary, but during the first half of the war this manifestly desirable step could not be taken. Machines for reclaiming such important items as shoes and tents were almost unobtainable. Even if they had been procurable, there were few technicians qualified to operate them. Pending the arrival of salvage outfits, the QMC therefore set up footwear and clothing repair schools in Australia to train troops and civilians who were to be sent north.60 In June 1943 New Guinea’s first repair shop, which handled footwear, began operations, but the establishment of reclamation centers in general proceeded slowly.61 In October the Fifth Air Force quartermaster reported that 26,000 troops in the Port Moresby region still had no way of having shoes mended. Men who wore out soles of their shoes, he wrote, “must draw a new pair which is of course a big waste.”62
From late 1943 on, the amount of salvage and reclamation work performed in
both the South Pacific and the Southwest Pacific steadily rose as experienced technicians and appropriate equipment finally arrived, but even then available resources did not match the magnitude of the task. The problem of how to maintain minimum salvage services with limited means remained a constant source of trouble. At the end of April 1944 there were in the whole Southwest Pacific only four repair companies and one collecting company, whereas current troop strength demanded at least six collecting and nine repair companies. Even the lone collecting company had come only in the preceding February.63
The newly arrived units, all semimobile, were divided among the bases and troop concentration points outside Australia. Repair units could not operate trailer-mounted equipment in forward areas and in consequence could not function as the mobile organizations they were meant to be.64 Usually, these units removed their equipment from the trailers and put it in thatched huts or temporary buildings at advance bases. This action facilitated operations by providing workers with better ventilation and more space. These advantages, in turn, made possible the elimination of the protracted rest periods needed in the tropics by men who labored in poorly ventilated trailers.65
Despite the inadequacy of facilities for minor repair jobs, some sort of repair section was available to most units in New Guinea by mid-1944. Unfortunately, these shops were often located many miles from troop concentrations. This drawback, together with other supply problems, usually made it impracticable to return to original wearers any apparel except shoes; other items were commonly turned over to bases for redistribution in bulk.66
Meanwhile facilities for making major repairs in the island had been provided. At Milne Bay in November 1943 the 28th Salvage Depot Headquarters Company started the first fixed installation in New Guinea for major repairs on material shipped from forward bases. This company had enough skilled operatives to supervise a thousand or more civilian employees, but since there were few candidates for jobs, its members served as artisans rather than as foremen. Because of its small labor force, the depot turned out only about 30 percent of the work that a fully manned establishment would have normally produced.67 A large part of the clothing sent to it was in very poor condition, much of it beyond reclamation. The added repair and disposition burdens thus laid on the depot were attributed to the “hard service” that apparel received in the field, to “failure of unit commanders to turn in” unusable garments before they were “completely beyond repair,” and to the protracted storage of material awaiting
movement, often under circumstances that hastened deterioration.68
In August 1944 Base F at Finschhafen, which had just recently become the site of another major repair installation, reported that it operated under conditions similar to those at Milne Bay. At that time it was receiving a monthly average of 500,000 pounds of Quartermaster supplies and equipment. “A great portion of this material,” it declared, consisted of “non-repairable canvas, cots damaged beyond repair and damaged metal containers which are too light to be classed as scrap metal.” Because of “lack of proper segregation and packaging” of clothes and web equipment, it added, “less than five percent” of these items had proved reclaimable.69
Of the reasons cited by the two salvage depots as responsible for the large amount of irreparable material, two were of primary significance. One was the remissness of troops in turning in badly worn articles, a negligence that stemmed in some measure from fear that replacements would not be issued. The other was the frequent refusal of supply sergeants to accept proffered material on the ground that it was not yet in sufficiently poor condition. The survey of Quartermaster activities in the Pacific Ocean Areas late in 1944 demonstrated the importance of these two factors. It showed that in the previous thirty days a high proportion of clothing had been found to need repair; at that time, in fact, 50 percent of shoes required mending, 31 percent of work suits, 26 percent of trousers, 18 percent of shirts, 17 percent of socks, and 4 percent of underwear. Yet only half the articles in need of renovation had actually been turned in for either major or minor repairs.70
Before late 1944 salvage collection in direct support of combat forces fared much worse than did repair activities in rear areas, being, as in Guadalcanal days, a poorly performed function of provisional groups composed of infantry as well as service troops. After that date, however, it was done to a considerable extent by a few recently arrived collecting units. Infantrymen in particular had felt the absence of regular collecting troops, for they could take with them into operational zones no more than small quantities of replenishment supplies. They accordingly had special need for quick repair in the field of unserviceable items and for retrieval of lost or abandoned items. Unless such equipment was properly collected, this requirement could not be met. While provisional groups could bring a good deal of battlefield salvage to collecting points, they lacked the time and training for accurate classification and the means of prompt transportation to repair shops.71 Even after standard collecting units became available, repair activities in combat areas generally remained on a provisional basis because trailer-carried equipment could not be moved readily. Full advantage could not, therefore, be derived from collecting units, and a main objective of salvage and reclamation operations, the speedy reissue to field organizations of repaired articles, could be achieved only in part.
Collecting units nevertheless carried on their regular activities in the Leyte campaign. A platoon landed on A plus 9 and
attached a squad to each of the division Quartermaster companies. These squads employed Filipino helpers and set up assembly stations on the routes followed by the trucks that carried salvage back from the battlefield. The platoon also sent out roadside teams to scour bivouacs, dumps, and trails. Supplies that could not be put to immediate use went to a base salvage dump.72 Procedures like those on Leyte were followed in Luzon where a collecting outfit also went ashore soon after the initial landings.73
At Okinawa low shipping priorities prevented the early support of tactical elements. Not until L plus 30 did a collecting company begin to function. With the help of borrowed trucks it cleared abandoned beach dumps, picked up discarded materials wherever they could be found, and classified large accumulations of supplies gathered by combat units.74 The 27th Division employed a large provisional unit, called the 27th Combat Salvage Collecting Company. This outfit, made up of troops who had battle experience but were medically certified as unsuitable for further infantry duty, was assigned not only the normal functions of a collecting unit but also the gruesome chore of gathering the dead on the battlefield, a duty normally given to combat soldiers but one they seldom carried out systematically. The company was divided into three platoons, and each platoon was in turn divided into three squads for support of battalions.75 Though these squads sometimes worked under enemy artillery and sniper fire, they recovered a large variety of immediately valuable articles. Among the Quartermaster articles were 1,838 canteens, 1,353 haversacks, 1,420 jungle kits, 350 cases of field rations, and substantial quantities of shoes, mess and web equipment, helmets, entrenching tools, and gasoline cans and drums. Among non-Quartermaster articles were 634 rifles, 47 Browning automatic rifles, 26 bazookas, 796 bayonets, 15,000 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition, 1,000 rifle grenades, 5,000 hand grenades, 3,330 rounds of 60-mm. mortar ammunition, 1,000 rounds of 81-mm. mortar ammunition, 1,000 rounds of 37- mm. antitank ammunition, 5 flame throwers, 76 grenade launchers, and a miscellaneous collection of explosives, radios, and telephones.76 In addition the company recovered 608 American dead, buried over 1,000 Japanese, established two cemeteries, and in emergencies served as litter bearers, ammunition carriers, and perimeter guards for infantry battalion command posts.
The two provisional repair units on Okinawa were typical of those employed in the closing phases of the Pacific war. One was a small shoe repair shop, manned by troops from a collecting company and a service unit. Set up on L plus 35, it renewed about 250 pairs of shoes a day. Even earlier, on L plus 10, a typewriter and office-equipment repair shop, which utilized seven enlisted men from a Quartermaster depot company, had begun to renovate machines at the rate of 450 a month.77 Valuable though these units were, they were too few in number and too small in size to perform more than a minor part of the necessary repairs.
Throughout the Pacific both air and ground forces deplored the dearth of
standard repair services in combat areas. They particularly lamented the poor means provided for the renewal of shoes, perhaps the item of apparel that could least easily be dispensed with. Task forces could not carry with them sufficient stocks of footwear. Nor could they provide for the shipment of adequate replacement stocks during the operation. Repair shops, which might have alleviated the inevitable shortages, were not ordinarily set up until the fighting had ceased. In the interim, the deputy commander of the Fifth Air Force noted in July 1944, there were occasions when not enough usable footwear was on hand to supply all troops. He urged as a corrective the early arrival of standard shoe repair outfits in operational zones. About this time the Sixth Army quartermaster submitted similar recommendations. But it was never possible to carry out these proposals.78
Though collection and repair activities were often disappointing to the combat forces, a considerable mass of scarce materials was shipped to the United States for industrial use. In the South Pacific such movements up to the close of March 1944 totaled 24,000,000 pounds of heavy and light ferrous scrap, nonferrous scrap, fired cartridge cases, tires, tubes, scrap rubber, and airplane parts.79 The Southwest Pacific Area calculated that between March 1942 and December 1944 it forwarded 34,000 ship tons of salvage.80 It also estimated that reclamation work during these thirty-four months resulted in the reissue of enough articles to save the cargo space occupied by 72,000 ship tons. This work, it further reckoned, had saved $19,150,000 which otherwise would have been spent on new supplies. The theater estimated that as of 30 September 1944 reclaimed articles of clothing and equipage numbered, respectively, 6,880,000 and 4,610,000.81 By far the greater part of these articles had been reclaimed in Australia. Salvage depots in the South Pacific manufactured as well as reclaimed articles. Among the unusual articles that they fabricated were special-purpose and odd-size uniforms for the QMC and trusses and braces for the Medical Corps. For some months collecting units in this theater also carried out graves registration functions.82
Graves Registration Service
Graves registration units were concerned with every activity relating to the care of the dead except the collection of bodies under battle conditions. Standard procedures required that they enter the combat zone as soon as it was free of danger, pick up the bodies that infantrymen had brought to collecting stations, and make the first systematic search for remains. Sometimes, for reasons of morale and sanitation, hasty burials in isolated spots might be necessary, but this practice was discouraged and, if it proved unavoidable, sketches of the physical surroundings were to be made to facilitate the future location of scattered
interments. Generally, the dead were moved as soon as possible to cemeteries designated by division commanders. Since graves registration units were primarily administrative outfits, they merely supervised burials; the actual digging of graves and the transportation of remains were functions normally performed by service troops. Every effort was made to identify bodies at least tentatively. This was a simple matter if identification tags were attached; otherwise identity had to be determined from letters, dental work, and fingerprints. If remains were badly mutilated, identification might prove impossible. The units also registered graves, collected personal property of the dead, and arranged for its shipment to next of kin. Though only one of these activities was, strictly speaking, “graves registration,” that term was used to embrace all mortuary responsibilities.83 Graves registration units, set up primarily for support of troops in combat areas, were composed of specialists in these responsibilities. The peacetime U.S. Army had no organizations of this sort, for commercial morticians were always available to care for its dead. Not until the spring of 1942 did the formation of these units even start.84
In the Southwest Pacific the want of trained troops handicapped graves registration throughout the war, particularly during the first two years. The organization of this service took place piecemeal “under pressure of unforeseen circumstances and without strict regard to the dictates of high level policy.” It was “an indigenous growth, improvised for the express purpose of meeting a series of local emergencies.”85 The first of these emergencies arose in Australia early in 1942 when bodies began to accumulate and require suitable disposition. In the haste of arranging for the feeding, quartering, and training of the troops who poured into Australia, little attention had been given to care of the dead. But once that problem became urgent a program was improvised. It was based on interment in Australia because shipment to the homeland was barred by the wide dispersion of troops and by the absence of supplies for preserving bodies on a long voyage. isolated burials were to cease, and all the deceased were to be concentrated in U.S. Army cemeteries, one of which would be set up in each base section in Australia. The program was to be carried out at Headquarters, USAFIA, and at base sections by officers who would arrange with Commonwealth authorities for the exclusive use of designated burial plots and with local morticians for the embalmment and transportation of bodies. These procedures, based on those employed in the United States, were suitable to the roughly similar conditions prevailing in Australia. But no provision was made for the formation of graves registration units to support tactical elements. Nor was any provision made for training in the identification of remains, perhaps the main problem posed by battle dead. The improvised program thus did not answer the growing need for a policy suitable to combat areas.86
Even its proper application in Australia was made difficult by the inadequate mortuary standards of commercial undertakers and by the inability of local manufacturers to supply satisfactory caskets. These problems were in one sense a blessing, for they obliged USAFIA to create a small provisional organization composed of thirty-seven men, most of whom had been morticians in civilian life. This group was instructed in the techniques of Army graves registration and then used to supplement Australian services. While not designed specifically for battle duty, the organization gave its members sufficient experience to enable them to perform many of the mortuary tasks demanded in combat. When the Papuan campaign started, it was fortunate that this unit existed, for the War Department had rejected a theater request for a single graves registration company, and no trained noncommissioned officers would have been available for service in New Guinea had the theater itself not already created the nucleus of a mortuary organization, however small.87
Useful though this nucleus was, technicians were still far too few in number to furnish fully satisfactory service for the forces fighting around Buna. Until early January 1943, when a second lieutenant arrived, the only specialists were six technical sergeants, two of whom were assigned to each of the three U.S. regiments. They served with details of infantry troops and supervised the collection, identification, and burial of the dead, with virtually no direction from combat officers. Their activities were somewhat simplified because the Buna campaign, like most of the Pacific operations before Leyte, was a battle of position rather than a campaign of maneuver. The combat zone in consequence covered a relatively small area, and it was easier to establish temporary cemeteries than it would have been in a campaign that involved constant troop movements. In the Urbana Force the graves registration sergeant “braved the dangers of the Front with a squad of men to bring the dead back so that they would not be buried” in isolated spots but concentrated in three small cemeteries.88 On the Warren Front, however, almost continual firing by snipers forced the burial of many dead “where they lay.” Not until early January could these isolated remains be disinterred and a search begun for the missing. Three details, each made up of a technical sergeant and five enlisted men, performed these tasks. Frequent consultation with combatants about the disappearance of soldiers in action materially facilitated the recovery of bodies, but many of the dead remained unlocated.89
The initial step toward a better graves registration establishment was taken in January 1943, when the 1st Platoon, 48th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, was activated at Port Moresby. It consisted of nineteen technical sergeants who had received specialized training in Melbourne. The creation of this unit was accompanied by a division of mortuary functions outside Australia. Base commands were to maintain cemeteries, and platoon headquarters were to distribute mortuary supplies and select men for temporary assignment to infantry organizations.90 But specialists were still too scarce
to furnish combat elements with an adequate number of technicians. Throughout 1943 they continued to be assigned to tactical units only in pairs or small detachments. Working under officers designated by task force commanders, they directed the collection and identification of the dead, chose sites for temporary cemeteries and isolated burials, and supervised interments. In the Morobe—Salamaua operation of June—September 1943 four enlisted men were the only theater graves registration troops that could be spared for attachment to the 162nd Regiment. One of them was assigned to each of the four columns into which this widely scattered organization was divided. Other organizations were even worse off, being wholly dependent for supervision upon inexperienced chaplains and noncommissioned tactical officers.91 In all combat forces perhaps the worst feature was the extensive employment of front-line soldiers in the demoralizing task of handling their own fatalities.
All this contrasted sharply with the contemporary situation in North Africa, where graves registration, initially on a provisional basis, became more and more an activity carried out by specialists. As technically trained troops in increasing numbers arrived from the United States in the spring and summer of 1943, this trend became particularly marked. In the Southwest Pacific, on the other hand, not a single graves registration unit came until the following November. Its arrival facilitated the division of labor among those who cared for the dead, but there were still too few technicians and too many gaps in mortuary supplies.92
In the assault on Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands early in 1944, graves registration troops were so scarce that only one sergeant and five privates could be assigned to the attacking force, which aggregated more than a division. Normally, a force of this size would be entitled to an entire platoon. The graves registration section did not land until D plus 9. Its late arrival as well as its small size accounted in considerable measure for the numerous deficiencies in the care of the dead. For some days this service was carried on wholly by organic troops, and throughout the operation these troops furnished the bulk of the needed details. Faults in routine handling of burials were common. Many grave markers bore no information whatever; identification tags were attached to markers by strings rather than by screws; and Japanese bodies were not separated from American remains. Frequently, no effort was made to identify the unknown dead. As recording clerks were generally unavailable, facts needed to verify an identification were seldom indicated. Finally, because temporary burial sites were not mapped, concentration of remains in cemeteries was delayed. It is significant that where a larger number of qualified men was available, as at the cemetery set up on neighboring Manus Island, much less reason existed for criticism. But on Manus, as on Los Negros, some burial reports contained no information about the cause of death and neither listed nor noted the disposition of personal effects though they might have given valuable clues to identity.93
On both islands the widest departure from prescribed practices was found in the disposal of enemy dead. The small mortuary details, barely able to care for American bodies, could not give Japanese bodies the same attention they gave their own. Strict adherence to the Geneva Convention prescribing equal treatment of the dead, whether friend or foe, was impossible.
Due to the tactical situation at the outset of the operation it was impossible to bury each enemy dead separately, and to make Reports of Interment. Enemy dead were in front of allied forward elements and it would have been impracticable to risk lives in order to bury enemy dead. When the initial objectives were taken it was necessary to bury the enemy dead immediately in a number of common graves as the bodies had begun to decompose and were a serious menace to the health of the Allied Forces.94
Owing to the uniformly heavy Japanese casualties and the swift deterioration of remains in the hot, insect-laden atmosphere, the disposal of enemy dead came to be regarded throughout the Pacific as a matter of field sanitation rather than of graves registration. The customary practice was to bury remains as speedily as possible, at times in huge graves that contained several hundred bodies.95 Under the prevailing conditions there was no feasible alternative. Only theaters, like the European, which had large pools of civilian labor as well as a relatively plentiful supply of graves registration units could follow the pattern prescribed at Geneva.96
In the thrust at Hollandia in April 1944 graves registration support was provided on the largest scale yet seen in the Southwest Pacific. An entire company was available, and one platoon from this unit was attached to each division. These platoons accompanied assault troops during the critical phases of the attack and so avoided the mistake made at Los Negros. The comparative abundance of technicians did not mean, however, that they were always utilized to the best advantage. The G-1 after action report of the 41st Division noted that liaison between combat commanders and attached graves registration elements had been ineffective.97 Probably because of this fact, landing force commanders did not establish any cemeteries during the assault phase. To obviate such lapses in the future, the report recommended that some specialists accompany the headquarters of the division to which their units were assigned. It also recommended that before an operation started a short graves registration course be given to chaplains and at least one officer or noncommissioned officer in each unit down to and including companies. A course of that sort, the report noted, had been given before the Hollandia offensive and had proved its value.
The South Pacific Area had meanwhile been coping with much the same problems as had the Southwest Pacific. Like its neighboring area, it had established at the outset small burial plots at the island bases, but it had made no provision, as had been done in Australia, for a trained group capable of caring for combat dead. When the first U.S. Army units went ashore on Guadalcanal late in 1942 to relieve the exhausted 1st Marine Division, there existed not even a small nucleus of technicians such as had carried out graves registration at Buna.98
A provisional graves registration unit had to be hastily created on the island itself. Search for technically fitted men unearthed a field artillery corporal who had been a mortician and he was promptly put in charge of the cemetery that had been set up by the Marine Corps. With the help of six enlisted men and a crew of native laborers, he corrected the haphazard plot layout in accordance with standard specifications. But he could not always follow basic procedures. The “battered condition” and rapid decomposition of bodies interred in emergency burial places forced the postponement of concentration activities for some weeks.99 Troops who could be spared for noncombat duties were so scarce that too much concern for the dead might have endangered the living. Maj. Gen. J. Lawton Collins, who commanded the 25th Division, saw corpses laboriously borne over “terrible trails” under a scorching sun, while wounded men lay unattended on the battlefield. This, he maintained, was false sentimentality wholly out of place in war. For this reason troops were directed to bury the dead quickly in graves “far enough off the trail so that,” when it “is extended, a bulldozer does not carry away the cross erected to mark the grave.”100
Not until six months after Japanese resistance had been crushed on Guadalcanal, did the first graves registration company trained in the zone of interior, the 49th, land in the South Pacific. Its members were immediately attached to provisional units and helped care for those who died in desperately fought battles in the jungles of New Georgia. Insofar as tactical conditions permitted, remains were evacuated to central burial points, but shortages of men and trucks still necessitated emergency burials on the battleground.101
The opening of offensive activities in the Central Pacific with the attack on the Gilberts found that area not much better prepared to handle mortuary work than its two sister areas had been earlier. It had no units trained for this work, and even the detachment of 164 Quartermaster officers and men formed to handle Quartermaster services in the Gilberts had no plans for graves registration. This responsibility was to be accomplished by a provisional detachment of fifty-nine officers and forty enlisted men of the 27th Division who had taken a two-week course at the Army morgue in Honolulu. Scanty though this instruction was, it at least constituted a better preparation than had been made for Guadalcanal.102
In the Gilberts, as well as on other Central Pacific atolls, graves registration was influenced strongly by the terrain. Instead of the rugged topography of New Guinea and Melanesia, there was firm open ground that presented few of the barriers to movement that were encountered in the jungles and mountains below the equator. But there were also tactical conditions unfavorable to care of the dead. The Gilberts campaign was planned as a short, all-out offensive rather than a prolonged operation like that around Buna, and the final death toll was expected after only a few days of hard fighting. This fact meant that “Any indifference toward prompt removal of the dead, friend or foe alike would be hazardous to health. Where formerly the price of victory had precluded adequate provision for care
of the dead, now the menace of disease to a victorious force determined the sort of graves registration program which should be addressed to this situation.”103
With quick recovery of the dead thus imperative, careful plans were made before the Gilberts assault to achieve this objective. Combat troops and the 105th Infantry Band would move remains from the front to a nearby trail, where labor or reserve troops would transfer the bodies to collecting points. Details, directed by provisional graves registration troops, would then carry the bodies to the island cemetery. If evacuation of the deceased proved impractical, combat soldiers could make emergency battlefield burials of known remains, but only graves registration specialists could inter unidentified bodies. Thus one important lesson taught by earlier operations was to be applied.104
This mortuary plan could not be executed as planned. Evacuation even of U.S. dead could not be completed during the period of active fighting, for enough troops were not available to finish the task within the short time permitted by swift tactical developments. Of equal urgency was the disposal of thousands of decomposing Japanese bodies—a problem intensified by the presence of American soldiers “in the same area which several hours before was a battlefield.”105 Prompt burial of these remains was essential, yet in only a few instances could this task be carried out without considerable delay.
Mortuary operations in the Marshalls followed much the same pattern as in the Gilberts. The main difference stemmed from the opportune arrival of the first regularly constituted graves registration company in the Central Pacific, an event which made possible the attachment of about fifty well-trained men to the task force. Because of this development the bodies of most American combat dead were collected and removed to island cemeteries with little delay. But once again the problem of enemy remains arose. After the assault troops had departed from Kwajalein on D plus 6, the chief task was in fact the burial of some 4,000 dead Japanese. Even then the vast accumulation of debris and the stench of decomposition held up this grisly work for some days. Bodies were sprayed liberally with sodium arsenite to arrest nauseous odors and the germination of insects, but actual removal of the dead took so long that the establishment of defense installations by the garrison force was dangerously retarded.106 Unless larger and better trained detachments were employed, a careful after action analysis warned, the same problem would arise in future campaigns.107
In the plan for the Saipan operation, accordingly, somewhat more generous provision was made for graves registration support. One platoon was allotted to the assault force and two platoons to the garrison force. A notable innovation was the assignment of responsibility for the actual spraying of Japanese remains to a small sanitary detail composed of troops from medical collecting units specially trained in this technique. The most serious defect in the execution of the Saipan plan was the shortage of trucks that prevented quick evacuation of
the dead to collecting points. In a protracted battle the number of vehicles would probably have been ample, but the rapid advances and heavy casualties put too much strain on the slender transportation resources allotted to mortuary units.108
The evacuation system broke down entirely on 7 July when a reckless enemy attack left 406 Americans and thousands of Japanese dead within a single square mile of the 105th RCT area.
In this situation a company from a battalion of the attached engineer group was assigned the mission. Ten trucks shuttled between the battlefield and an LVT landing point, where the bodies were transferred to 30 amphibious tractors and carried by water to Yellow Beach 3, where the tractors came ashore and went directly to the cemetery. The difficulties of locating bodies among the thousands of Japanese dead, of recovering bodies from shell holes which had filled with water, and the collection of bodies which had been badly shattered by mortar fire made it impossible to complete collection of these dead in less than 4% days, notwithstanding the amount of personnel and transportation involved. This delay in evacuating our dead is believed to have had a depressing effect on the morale of troops in the area, and was the subject of adverse comment by individual Marines.109
An estimate, described as “undoubtedly conservative,” placed at more than 7,000 the number of Japanese interred in mass graves. More than 200 civilian internees helped carry out this grim task. Generally speaking, a deep trench was dug with a bulldozer, and Japanese bodies were laid in it, counted, and sprayed with sodium arsenite. The bulldozer then filled the excavation. Finally, a marker indicating the approximate number of enemy dead was erected.110
At this time the entire problem of recovering human remains was under study in the Central Pacific. Here, as in every theater of operations, the traditional dependence upon infantrymen for locating the bodies of those who fell in battle had yielded poor results. USAFICPA Circular 93, 5 June 1944, attempted a fundamental solution of this problem. It authorized the establishment of provisional field salvage units whose major function would be, not the recovery of mere equipment but of human remains. These units would evacuate and bury Americans during the assault phase and later spray and dispose of enemy dead. They would thus relieve combat troops of an unwelcome task “at a time when the tumult of battle” incited “an urge to pursue and kill.”111 The policy laid down in Circular 93 was followed as closely as possible in subsequent Central Pacific operations.112
On Leyte, for example, the provisional graves registration company assigned to the XXIV Corps was assisted by an attached field salvage unit that carried out no salvage work until its mortuary chores had been completed. The Southwest Pacific forces on Leyte attempted no such basic innovation. Though two graves registration platoons—one for each infantry division—were provided, no reserve whatever was available at corps or army headquarters, and supervision over the care of the dead became a responsibility of division quartermasters.113
The campaign for the recovery of the Philippines introduced new strategic and tactical factors that profoundly modified graves registration procedures. Lengthy campaigns of maneuver now replaced the battles of position which had characterized most of the previous Pacific operations. On Leyte the combat zone was limited, not by the area of a tiny atoll, but by that of a comparatively large island and the battle raged without interruption for nine weeks, making it necessary to establish many temporary cemeteries and bury many soldiers in isolated plots. Because of the large area over which combat troops advanced and the inability of Southwest Pacific Area division quartermasters to give close supervision to mortuary activities, Southwest Pacific divisions could not complete their graves registration work before they departed from the island. After the Eighth Army took over the occupation of Leyte, it found many dead still unburied and many isolated graves either unreported or incorrectly reported. These unfavorable conditions materially strengthened the contention that a larger number of graves registration units was needed and that these units should accompany the assault waves.114
Despite increasing recognition of the need for better care of battle dead, graves registration troops were available in the Luzon campaign at a rate only about half that of the concurrent campaign in Europe.115 While one platoon was provided for each division, there were few troops that could be allotted to the corps or to army reserve. As combat troops moved forward from the beaches, the rapid pace of their advance governed the selection of cemeterial sites, which, for convenience, were set up at division collection points. So swift did the thrust through Luzon become that the dead had to be transported twenty-five or more miles for burial even in temporary cemeteries. Accordingly, divisional functions were limited to evacuation of remains and responsibility for burial was shifted to a rear-echelon organization, the Army Service Command, which employed its labor troops for the interment of remains brought to collecting points.116 In the final stages of the operation the greatest possible number of dead was exhumed and concentrated in two semipermanent cemeteries.
Preparations for the seizure of Okinawa, main island of the Ryukyus, involved the XXIV Corps, a large part of which was on Leyte. For this offensive, the climactic battle of the war against Japan, the allotment of graves registration units, as of virtually all other Quartermaster organizations, was the most liberal yet made in the Pacific. Eight platoons were furnished, two of which were attached to the Corps, and one to each of the five Army divisions. One division eventually received a second platoon. The Pacific Ocean Areas system of associating provisional field salvage units with mortuary units was another feature of the Okinawa plan, which specifically provided that divisions would organize salvage units “from organic or attached service personnel.” As soon as the tactical situation warranted, preferably on L or L plus 1, these units would gather bodies from local collecting points, supervise the excavation and filling of graves, and guard against looters. Combat commanders would provide labor troops for moving the dead to local collecting points. Infantrymen remained responsible for the disposition of enemy dead but
were to be assisted as much as possible by field salvage units.117
The 96th Division plan for evacuating remains on Okinawa is noteworthy, for it provided graves registration technicians in zones of action. In all tactical units of this division a “burial and graves registration officer” was to be appointed. In battalions and higher echelons he would be helped by a “burial and graves registration section.” While battalion sections were to be made up wholly of combat personnel, regimental sections would include three enlisted men from the graves registration platoon serving the division and twelve laborers from the attached Quartermaster service company. The division Burial and Graves Registration Section would include the attached platoon less individuals on detached duty and have as its major function the supervision of all mortuary activities.118
Graves registration on Okinawa in general proceeded according to pre-landing plans. Eight temporary cemeteries, including two of the Marine Corps, were established. They contained altogether 9,227 graves, the largest number for any Pacific operation. Of this number only 328 were unidentified. The 96th Division made more burials than any other Army organization—1,643, of which 1,601 were Army dead.119 At no time were bodies transported more than twenty miles, a distance too short to require a shift in the control of evacuation and burial from the division to a rear echelon, as had been done on Luzon. At the end, the 27th and 96th Divisions were evacuating dead to the Island Command Cemetery, an action that perhaps indicated a trend toward early consolidation of burials in a corps or army plot. That a general development of this sort would have saved considerable time and labor in handling bodies was the final judgment of Island Command headquarters. “Terrain and tactical conditions on Okinawa,” it maintained, “warranted a larger consolidation of burials than occurred.” Under comparable circumstances in the future, it concluded, “burials should be consolidated.”120
At Okinawa graves registration, which had been steadily improving since the days of Buna and Guadalcanal, reached perhaps the peak of its accomplishments in the Pacific. Three years before, few quartermasters, let alone combat commanders, had known much about graves registration, for it was a wartime service, the practice of which had become an almost forgotten art between 1918 and 1941. But experience was a first-rate teacher, and with it came knowledge and comprehension. Gradually, too, fairly well-trained units arrived, but there were never enough of them. In the Pacific war as a whole, the persistent shortage of these units, the rapid deterioration of bodies, and the frequent failure to provide graves registration troops early in an operation, caused a high percentage of isolated burials, inadequately marked graves, and incorrect recording of facts regarding the dead. Most important of all, there was a larger proportion of unrecovered bodies and unidentified bodies than in better manned theaters. All these shortcomings rendered more difficult the postwar tasks of searching for and recovering the unlocated dead, of identifying the unidentified, of verifying old identifications, and, finally, of disposing of remains in accordance with relatives’ wishes
either in permanent overseas military cemeteries or in sites selected by the family in the United States. These tasks might have been less formidable had graves registration units been trained before Pearl Harbor and shipped promptly to overseas areas and had the prewar doctrine that made combat troops responsible for recovery of their own dead been modified to permit the use of technicians in areas of actual combat. Certainly, the application of similar measures in a new emergency would obviate at least some of the mistakes of World War II.
Weaknesses, comparable to those which characterized graves registration, also marred the performance of other Quartermaster services. All these services were hampered by inadequate manpower and by the tendency to assign units, once they became available in the zone of interior, to the forces in Europe rather than to those in the Pacific. When trained companies did arrive in the latter theater, they often proved ill-fitted for use by the relatively small, dispersed forces that normally conducted island warfare. These forces found it particularly difficult to employ the bulky and inflexible trailer-carried equipment of laundry, repair, and bath companies. In the few instances in which combat organizations improvised more suitable units for operational use, the results proved reasonably gratifying, but in general tactical troops simply went without the services. The carelessness with which infantrymen collected salvageable materials and combat dead in battle areas made clear the need for a general reconsideration of the wisdom of assigning these duties to front-line soldiers.
In the Pacific, then, the QMC found provision of its miscellaneous services a harder task than that posed by its supply responsibilities, and one it accomplished less satisfactorily. Some of the difficulties could have been avoided had more service units been available earlier and had equipment been adjustable to the peculiarities of Pacific warfare. If these requisites had been met, graves registration would have suffered from fewer shortcomings, troops would have obtained more bread, more baths, and better shoes, and their clothing would have been laundered more satisfactorily and more frequently.