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COMMANDER SOUTH ATLANTIC FORCE AT RECIFE - COMMANDER SOUTH ATLANTIC

17)SHORE ACTIVITIY IN 1942


At this point it is time to mention the general progress on land that had taken place in 1942. Recife, then, as always, was the center. As the year opened, the Naval Observer's staff consisted of a Chief Yeoman and a Chief Storekeeper; the later in charge of six Storekeepers and also acting as pay clerk. Occasionally temporary additions to the Staff might be borrowed from the ships in port. Storage facilities had been provided through the renting of Armazem number 3 from the Brazilians. Ships bound for Recife wired before arrival, stating what fresh provisions they needed. The Observer's Office straightway placed orders for these supplies, prepared public vouchers for payment, and delivered the provisions alongside the ships when they docked. Subsequently the procedure was extended to ordnance and other necessary services, so that it ultimately became possible for a ship to enter port, be refueled and supplied, and leave within an hour's time.


By February, the work of the Observer's Office increased to such an extent, that Lieutenant H. A. Richey, USNR, reported to Commander Hodgman (who had been promoted) to become Executive Officer and to handle Intelligence duties. This raised the complement to three, since Lieutenant Kendall of the Marines had arrived the previous August and was in charge of such items as delivery of mail to ships.


Soon the number of officers rose to four, as Ensign, later Lieutenant W. F. McLenna arrived in April. He became Assistant in Communications, Intelligence, and Ordnance, and later, when increase personnel permitted, took over the Intelligence work entirely. It might also be recalled that the 19th Provisional Company of Marines was in Recife, having been transferred from the Patoka to the Boa Viagem Casino early in January. The Marines served as Shore Patrol during the months from February through May, Lieutenants Waters and Parks being detailed to look after this duty. After Brazil's declaration of war, The Marines acted as guards at Ibura Field, and for the next few months details landed from ships in port did the Shore Patrol work. This situation continued until February, 1943, when a permanent Shore Patrol Office was established.


July saw the number of commissioned officers doubled. As previously noted, Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) C. C. Dunn arrived during this month to take over merchant routing and shipping. He soon became Assistant Area Petroleum Officer and also succeeded Lieutenant Richey as Executive Officer. Next arrived Lieutenant H. A. Hunnicutt, to set up a separate department as Docking Officer. He coordinated the different activities involved in docking and undocking Naval vessels. Lieutenant Hunnicutt had the advantage of long previous residence in Brazil and a fluent knowledge of the Portuguese language; both invaluable assets in work which involved dealing largely with Brazilian personnel. When soon thereafter Commander Hodgman, the Naval Observer, was designated American Captain of the Port of Recife, Lieutenant Hunnicutt became his assistant in that capacity.


Ensigns E. T. Ross and R. E. Miller also reported in July. Mr. Ross was made Assistant Communications Officer, did some Intelligence work, and in October became the first Moving Picture Exchange Officer at Recife. Ensign Miller had been sent especially to establish a Fleet Post Office, and immediately relieved Lieutenant Kendall of his mail duties. Though possessing no particular experience of this kind, he had determination and the services of a Specialist First Class who had done such work in the Navy for twenty years. Admiral Ingram has the reputation of being the most "mail-minded" Admiral in the U. S. Navy, and took a personal interest in the Post Office. The northern end of Armazem 3, beside the docks, was set aside for the purpose. Work on it started at once, and even before its completion the Post Office began operations, on July 25.


At first, incoming mail usually arrived aboard a Pan American International Plane, four times a week. The Brazilian postal system delivered the correspondence to the Observer's office, which arranged the further distribution. Gradually, however, a larger percentage of mail came on board Army and Navy planes. Often Army bombers, arriving in Natal from Miami, and bound across the Atlantic, shifted the mail to PBYs, which shuttled it on to Recife. Outgoing mail sacks went by the same planes on their return trips, to the Fleet Post Office at Natal, also just established, which transferred them to the Army for transportation to Miami. Natal is only 150 miles north of Recife, and often squadron planes flew there to Ibura Field with little advance notice given. It was not uncommon for the PBYs to land before the Post Office had decoded the message announcing the flight. Since the planes seldom stayed over five hours at Ibura, outgoing mail had to be prepared, baled, pouched, manifested, and delivered to the plane side in that time.


Post Office policy was to have no ship dock at Recife without finding her mail waiting. This was adhered to do rigidly, that in thespace of two years, only once, in exceptional circumstances, did a ship have to wait. The Postal Officer's domain also included Officer Messenger, Courier, and registered Guard Mail. Until the establishment of Fleet Post Offices at Belem and Natal, there could be no supervision over U. S. Mail at these division points, and it was considered unsafe to send or receive classified matter as U. S. Registered Mail. Everything classified was forwarded by Officer Messenger to San Juan, where the Fleet Post Office registered it. With the arrival of Navy Postal Officers at Natal (July) and Belem (August) the necessary security for safe keeping and loading division points was provided. Classified matter could then leave Recife safely as registered mail.


As yet no Military or Naval planes flew south of Recife. Mail addressed to the southern cities went by State Department Courier. There being but one courier a week, the volume of mail that could be carried was small. At first, no facilities existed for getting anything to ships at either Bahia or Rio, to be delivered to the Milwaukee, Somers, and Jouett. But this was the special plane that took Secretary Knox and Admiral Ingram to their conference with President Vargas. The circumstances were unlikely to occur again.


October saw the establishment of a regular Naval Air Transport (NATS) Plane schedule in Brazil, with Rio as the southern terminus. However, it was not known at first that these planes intended to leave mail at Recife. Ensign Miller was greatly surprised one day, early in the month, when he learned that a bundle of mail from a scarcely identified plane had been off-loaded for him at Ibura. This happened several times, until the Postal Officer finally made contact with a NATS plane crew, and learned from them the facts of the case. They would haul to Recife whatever was available at Natal, and if it should be mail they would stop just long enough to unload it. No advance notice could be given, and on the return northbound flight there would be no stop.


Mr. Miller reported this interview to Commander Hodgman, who agreed that both north and southbound mail stops were needed. The Commander then communicated with both the Chief of Naval Operations and the Naval Attache at Rio. The reply was affirmative, and thereafter planes landed daily at Ibura, going both ways. Recife, being now the middle instead of the end of the line for mail, could undertake postal routing for the ships of the Force. Hitherto, Trinidad had handled that matter, sending mail to whatever Brazilian city a given ship would next visit. A communication to the New York Fleet Post Office stated that, thanks to NATS, Recife could now undertake this routing. New York thereafter despatched the Force's mail straight to Recife, thus by-passing Trinidad and saving valuable time. Mr. Miller and his staff, by making a daily check on ship movements with Operations, could send the correspondence to its destination.


By early 1943, the Navy mail service functioned smoothly in Brazil, through the Fleet Post Offices at Belem, Natal, Recife, Bahia, and Rio. For coordinating all this activity, Mr. Miller in April became District Postal Officer for the Fourth Fleet. Later, new post offices were added to the five originals. They existed at Amapa, Igarape Assu, São Luiz, Fortaleza, Fernando de Noronha, Maceio, Ipitanga, Caravelas, and Santa Cruz.


The establishment of the NATS schedule was so closely connected with the postal situation that a few words about it are due here. Until past the middle of 1942, Naval Air Transport extended its service only as far as San Juan. Soon after mid-year t made the next jump; to Trinidad. In October it moved into Brazil, and its schedule of hops was Trinidad, Belem, Natal, Bahia (Ipitanga) for gas, and finally Rio. Though later on NATS had the Transport of Navy personnel as one of its important functions, this was not so at the outset. The planes operated for one main reason; to haul northward from Rio daily two tons of Quartz crystals, industrial diamonds, and tungsten concentrates. If space and schedules permitted they took mail, passengers, and freight. Usually they traveled southward without special loads, and hence might usually be loaded in northern Brazil with whatever cargo, human or otherwise, their pilots could be persuaded to haul.


Recife, or, to be exact, Ibura, got on the schedule as previously noted, when Commander Hodgran and Ensign (later Lieutenant) Miller arranged for daily mail stops. No manifests, except for mail, were prepared in the early days. The local NATS officer, Mr. Miller, who received this duty in conjunction with his postal ones, simply estimated the amount of space that would be available, loaded the corresponding weight in mail, cargo and passengers aboard a truck and headed for Ibura. A hurried conference with the pilot, on the latter's arrival, determined how much might be put aboard, and the plane accordingly was loaded.


A homemade priority rating called "Northbound - the Four M System; Meat, Mail, Men, and Material," was used. Meat, which was urgently needed at Natal, would spoil and hence came first. Mail, always important, ranked next. The men were usually Navy transfers being hurried out because of orders and also because quarters for them did not exist in Recife. Material did not constitute a problem, since the newness of the establishment made most of it incoming, not outgoing. The makeshift arrangement referred to northbound planes. Those headed south had little cargo and required no priority application to load. Many times articles that could as well have gone by sea made the trip by air simply as a ballast for the plane.


Gradually, as the thing matured, it became more systematized. Manifest forms were obtained and prepared for each flight. Passengers had to sign waivers of liability. Pilots no longer had the entire say in determining loads. Army and Navy work parties acted as loading crews. Late in January, 1943, Lieutenant (jg) R. Starkey reported for duty as NATS officer and relieved the overburdened Mr. Miller. Before long NATS carried an average of 300,000 pounds and 600 passengers out of Recife each month. Before each flight, messages came over Navy Radio which could be used in preparing manifests and load computations.


The second half of 1942 saw continued expansion at Recife, necessitating further increased personnel and greatly enlarged physical facilities. Hence it was a period of planning and construction. It saw work begun on barracks both in the dock area and at Ibura. At this time, also, the first magazine construction at Jiquia began. Previously the Navy had depended on the Brazilians for storage facilities for explosives. The latter had two warehouses in a Mounted Artillery encampment located between Olinda and Paulista. They allowed the Americans to use these, while excess material could be stored in the dock warehouses. As the anti-submarine campaign progressed, increased storage facilities became essential, and plans were drafted for the Jiquia magazine. These lay approximately six kilometers from the city, at the Campo de Amarraçao, formerly used as a Zeppelin field.


The Brazilian declaration of war on Germany and Italy, in August, had a great effect on the Naval establishment in Recife. For one thing, it brought local cooperation to the work of establishing a major facility there. The removal of Admiral Ingram's flag from the Memphis to the Patoka meant that Recife definitely became the Naval Center of the South Atlantic. The Admiral had been directed to set up a G.H.Q. at Recife, comparable to a Sea Frontier Command. On the third of October he informed the Cominch and the Cinclant that he proposed to establish on shore in the city. A few days later he requested permission from the Brazilian Minister of Marine to build structures necessary for shore based headquarters. This received prompt approval, and the United States Navy Department appropriated the sum of $300,000 for the purpose. Then a better possibility presented itself. In the center of Santa Antonio, the business district of Recife, stood a 10 story office building nearing completion, called the "Edificio dos Bancarios." This would serve the purpose well, and possibilities were investigated.


The Recife Naval Observer, who had been promoted and was now Captain Hodgman, made a trip to Rio for the purpose and succeeded in renting the structure, The yearly cost would be $24,000, with an additional $10,000 needed for some structural alterations and the installation of a telephone system. The deal went through and the Naval Observer and his staff moved in the day before Christmas; the officers of the flag following a little later.


The admiral himself, with the Senior Flag Officers, occupied the 7th deck. The Naval Observer and his staff took the 4th, with the rest of the building being apportioned variously. Operations had the first and second decks, while the third went to the Base Supply Department. The 5th and 6th went to the Offices of Flag Secretary and Fleet Civil Engineer. Later it accommodated Air Wing Headquarters, following their transfer from Natal. The 8th went to Communications and a Medical Dispensary for the building, and the 9th to the Radio Office, the Building Guard, and the Maintenance crew. Deck 10, with the Penthouse above it, became an Officers Club.


At the time of occupancy the building had not been fully completed. Because of the unreliability of local power and communications, a very haphazard telephone system, a poorly constructed switchboard in the building and uncertain elevators, constant annoying difficulties had to be encountered. Gradually, Navy-directed improvements and repairs raised the efficiency level.


The Medical Dispensary at Recife was established during 1942. The Admiral from the start had realized the need for adequate hospital facilities ashore, to care both for the personnel afloat and the men on duty in Brazil. Early in the year he requested that a 50 bed Dispensary be established in Recife. In response to this, six Navy Doctors and a Dentist reported on June 19, 1942. The physicians included specialists in internal medicine, surgery, x-ray, eye, ear, nose and throat, and psychiatry. Accompanying them on the transport that brought them were 13 quonset huts, complete with electrical installations, and 15½p tons of medical equipment and supplies. Admiral Ingram and the Senior Medical Officer looked over a number of possible locations for the Dispensary and decided that the beach at Boa Viagem, seven miles south of the center of the city, was the most suitable place. A patriotic Brazilian, Senhor Antonio Luiz de Almeida Brennand, offered a good sized lot to the U. S. Navy at no cost for as long as it might be needed. The rear of the grounds had a well built house and garage. The house was converted later into a galley, and the garage became a storeroom.


Six Corpsmen reported in the latter part of May, and on August 6 Commander B. L. Malpass (MC) USN, arrived. The Commander was placed in charge of the Dispensary and ordered to take steps necessary for putting the unit in operation at once.


Late in August the Marines moved to Ibura, vacating their quarters at the Casino, located nearby. The structure was then used to provide temporary living facilities for the Corpsmen, though it later served for the showing of moving pictures for the staff and patients. By the end of August enough quonset huts had been erected to allow the unit to function, and on September 19 the first patient was admitted.


Secretary Knox visited the Dispensary during his visit to Brazil in October, and a little later Commander McGrath, from the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, made an inspection. It had previously been planned to call the unit a Hospital, but Commander McGrath explained that according to BuMed standards, it must be designated a Dispensary, which thereupon became its official title. By the end of the year, 25 more Corpsmen had arrived, and the Dispensary was extremely busy.


Bahia progressed more slowly during 1942. The Naval Observer, Lieutenant Saben, became a Lieutenant Commander in February. During this period Naval vessels rarely entered the port, due to the lack of repair facilities and generally inadequate means of operation. However, when, late in the year, the Naval Observer, like all others in Brazil was transferred to Comsolantfor, a new period began. Preliminary steps were taken for the construction of barracks, on which definite arrangements were made in January '43, and the Navy began renting of Armazens from the Brazilians.


An outstanding event at Bahia at this time was the arrival in November, 1942, of a British Troop Convoy, bound for the Cape of Good Hope. It first sailed from England to the United States, and thence down to Brazil. No other harbor in the country was capable of sheltering such a convoy, consisting of five large ships, carrying about 15,000 British soldiers. At Bahia the expedition needed fuel and water, and in supplying these requirements the Brazilian authorities cooperated well. They laid a six inch line to the dock area for water, and the local fire authorities loaned their pumps and engines. All the British ships were docked and undocked by Brazilian pilots, without the assistance of tugs. The Captain of the Empress of Scotland, the largest vessel ever to be docked at Bahia, said that the operation had never been better performed on his ships in any port.


Activity at Natal has been noted from time to time in the course of this narrative. Several instances of the progress made there in 1942 are worthy of mention. An important item was the establishment of the Fleet Post Office; organized by Ensign D. H. Ihrig, and taken over by Ensign J. F. O'Brien late in July. Another was the introduction  of NATS schedules in October. During the same month, the Natal personnel moved from tents into  the newly constructed barracks. Most important of all was the gradual development which transformed the Naval Observer's Office into a Naval Facility.


Lieutenant Gary was detached as Naval Observer in November; his relief being Lieutenant Commander Cook. During the first part of the year the Observer's duties continued to consist mostly of Intelligence, Communications, and Liaison work. In the second half, especially after Brazil became a belligerent, business at Natal grew exceedingly. The number of ship sinkings increased, and this frequently meant arranging air transportation for survivors to the United States. Problems connected with NATS operations threw more work on the personnel, and the handling of strategic materials also became an item. Various outstanding officials, both American and foreign, visited Natal during the year. Their presence involved security arrangements and official receptions; work which had to be handled by the Naval Observer. Among the prominent visitors were Secretary of the Navy Knox, Admiral W. H. Standley, Ambassador Jefferson Caffery, and Wendell Wilkie.


At Belem, the U. S. Naval Observer, Lieutenant Commander Edward Breed, remained in charge all through 1942. He had begun his work shortly before Pearl Harbor, with an office in the U. S. Consulate. But, early in the year, the Observer moved to the newly completed Costa Leite Building, where he occupied an entire floor, consisting of seven room, with space sufficient to include the office of the British Shipping Advisor.


The period was primarily one of organization, during which liaison contacts were established and cordial relations instituted with local Brazilian representatives. Thorough inspections were made of the facilities available for U. S. Naval vessels visiting the port; also air fields and facilities for fuel and provisions storage. Sources of information included local police, port authorities, pilots, and experienced shipping agents. Data and statistics collected from these agencies were made available to all U. S. Naval and Air Forces in Brazil.


Part of the early work consisted of exploring the coastline, harbors, and estuaries in the Pará and Maranhão districts. U. S. Naval aircraft did this reconnaissance and collected necessary information relating to possible submarine "hideouts". At the same time, the Army Air Corps and the U. S. Marine Company stationed at Belem conducted some exploration of the hinterland. The Marines, however, left in May.


The Observer's staff remained small, and my the middle of the year consisted of but two officers and two enlisted men. Additional personnel reported during the first half, but multiplying duties absorbed the newcomers as fast as they arrived. By the end of 1942 the size of the staff had increased to seven officers and six men. When Brazil declared war, the picture changed as might be expected. The traffic of both transport and tactical planes headed overseas augmented considerably. Very often Belem served as an overnight stop for fliers en route. The activity of Naval Patrol Planes changed from sporadic to constant. Several aircraft of the Natal squadron from time to time operated out of Belem. In early September, ground clearing started for the building of Navy heavier-than-air facilities. When NATS began operation late in 1942, it included Belem on the schedule, and the U. S. Army Air Base set up facilities for housing and  feeding transient personnel. Because of Axis submarine activity, approximately 250 survivors of torpedoed ships landed along the 1000 mile coastline assigned the Belem Naval Observer's office. Due to an almost complete lack of transportation facilities, it was often very hard to render prompt assistance to these survivors.


The Observer's office had no means of its own for fueling and repairing American government vessels; consequently, whenever necessary, arrangements had to be made in local commercial shipyards. Belem got its Fleet Post Office a trifle later than Recife and Natal. Originally a small post office was maintained in the office of the Naval Observer. Ensign R. E. Hoover, USNR, reported in August, 1942, and at once became officer-in-charge. With one enlisted man to help him, he organized a postal service which, in addition to Belem, ultimately took care of São Luiz, Igarapé Assu, Amapá, following establishment of activities at those places.


Since the inception of the South Atlantic Campaign, the air arm had grown steadily more important. Fortunately, American military authorities had not been blind to the possible needs of the future. As far back as November 2, 1940, the United States Secretary of War entered into a contract with the Pan American Airports Corporation, for the purpose of creating certain land and seaplane bases in Brazil, and for improving existing ones. The Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army, was designated to supervise the contract. At that time, it was not advisable for the United States Army or Navy to work directly in Brazil. A construction subsidiary of Pan American Airways, known as ADP, or Aviation Development Projects, undertook the actual developments. Unfortunately, the ADP acquired the reputation in Brazil of being an inefficient, over staffed organization, with many incompetent overpaid employees who did their work in a slow, costly manner. By 1942, however, the arrival of Major Eugenio Buitrago (C.E.C.) USA, in Recife had stepped up progress considerably. Major Buitrago, as Field Contract Officer, cleaned out deadwood and strengthened the ADP organization.


By the second half of 1942 it was apparent that for efficient patrol purposes Brazilian air facilities would have to be greatly expanded. In September, Captain C. A. Trexel, (C.E.C.) USN, received orders from the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks to make an inspection trip to Trinidad and Brazil. While the mission was somewhat general in nature, art of the Captain's assignment was to investigate the existing airfields and the possibilities of establishing more. He left Washington by air on October 3, and was back in fifteen days, having visited all the places involved. Since his report furnishes a picture of the Brazilian aviation situation at the time, the facts as he gave them are of interest here.


The first Brazilian point visited by Captain Trexel was Belem. A landplane base existed there at Val de Cans, ten miles north of the city, then utilized for American military purposes almost entirely by the Army. Val de Cans had two stabilized sand runways completed and in use, though one was in the process of enlargement. Gasoline storage was inadequate, but was about to be augmented by three 13,500 barrel underground steel tanks, served by a 12 inch pipeline from the Miramar dock. Belem also had seaplane facilities located adjacent to the Val de Cans field, but in October, 1942, these were unfinished.


São Luiz, for years a Pan-Air flighted stop, came next. Here the landplane base lies 8 kilometers southwest of the city. At this time there was one stabilized clay sand runway at São Luiz, but housing facilities were not usable, due to lack of beds, mattresses, and refrigerators. Natal, of course, had its well known Parnamirim Field for landplanes, located 15 kilometers south of the city. Two stabilized clay runways existed, both 6000 feet long. At the moment, the Navy was being supplied gasoline by the Humboldt and the YO 138, which brought it from Recife. However, the construction of tanks was then well underway. Seaplane facilities existed, but there did not seem to be any immediate use for them. The situation changed before the end of the year.


At Recife, there was Ibura Field, located 16 kilometers from the city and roughly to the southwest. Two runways existed, one completed and the other nearing completion. The newer one was being surfaced with bituminous macadam. The only U. S. Naval personnel there at the time were the 50 members of the 19th Provisional Marine Company. Both Army and Navy barracks had been erected, though neither, as yet, was fully occupied. Moving from Recife southward, the next air stop is Maceio. A landplane base existed 18 kilometers north of town, but no housing for Naval personnel had as yet been constructed. The seaplane facilities, located on Lagoa do Norte, had progressed since the Admiral's report concerning them early in the year. Barracks were nearly completed, but the base had not yet gone into operation.


Near Bahia there were two aviation sites; Ipitanga, suitable for landplanes, and Aratú, well adapted to seaplanes. Both lie a considerable distance from the city, approximately 35 kilometers. Ipitanga already had a considerable history as an airfield, having been used by the FAB and numerous commercial airlines, such as Air France, Pan American Airways, Cruzeiro do Sul, Panair do Brazil, as well as some privately owned planes. Yet it was in no way a satisfactory field at that time. Sand dunes surrounded it, only one runway existed, gasoline must be hauled from Bahia, to which no respectable road then existed, and the field's closeness to the ocean exposed it to potential shell fire. At Aratú, seaplane facilities were in process of construction. At that date it was not certain whether or not they would be used. Connected with the whole question of the suitability of Ipitanga and Aratú was the major matter of Bahia's shortage of oil and tankage facilities.


Rio de Janeiro did not figure greatly in the U. S. Naval picture at this time. Santos Dumont Airport is located on Guanabara Bay, directly in front of the city. There is also Santa Cruz, a considerable distance southwest of Rio, with its magnificent hangar built by a German commercial line prior to the war. Both of these would be utilized to some extent later on, together with a third base, constructed at Galeão on an island in Guanabara Bay, but these were later developments.


On his way back, Captain Trexel visited Fortaleza, between Natal and São Luiz. Not much existed there at the time, though there was an airfield with one runway and another under construction. Despite some construction delays, it will be seen that there existed, up and down the coast of Brazil, a good number of airfields, conveniently spaced for patrol work, and capable of indefinite expansion. These proved indispensable on the arrival of Fleet Air Wing Sixteen, which early in 1943 was attached to the Command.


Hyper War. Commander South Atlantic Force. U.S Naval Administration in WW II.


 

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