The 198th Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft) in World War II, Operation Bobcat Island
Brig. Gen. Kennard R. Wiggins (DE ANG Ret.) Kennard.email@example.com
Editor's note: To learn more about the pre-war mobilization of the 198th Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft) see "The Delaware National Guard Between the World Wars"
198th Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft)
At the end of the summer of 1941, the 198th Coast Artillery Regiment moved to Fort Ontario, N. Y., where it was stationed on Pearl Harbor day. At the time, it was the only fully equipped antiaircraft regiment on the East Coast. The regiment had been federalized in September 1940 and so already had more than a year of active service. It was a well-oiled machine that had profited from its training and was near full-readiness. It was a regiment that could “move, shoot, and salute”.
Thirty six hours after the Japanese attack, the 198th had packed and loaded equipment, drawn ammunition, made a motor march through a winter storm of 300 miles over icy roads, and had set up tactical positions to defend the Pratt and Whitney aircraft factory at East Hartford, Conn. It was a remarkable mobility feat, and a tribute to the regiment's training.
It was understood that this assignment would be temporary. Batteries were erected and then re- erected in more favorable positions. Platoons and sections were shuffled around and the business of “digging in” began in earnest. An aircraft warning system was established via four observation posts and telephone lines. Members of the regimental band were employed as observers. Strict security procedures were put into place to guard against saboteurs and 5th columnists. For the first two to three weeks the organization faced almost unbearable weather as they billeted in tents and tobacco barns with little protection from the elements. There were delays in supplies as pre-war bureaucratic red tape was unraveled.
The people of Hartford began to take up the challenge of providing for the boys of the 198th. They collected stoves of all sizes and descriptions and distributed them to the troops. The citizens brought hot coffee and doughnuts to the troops huddled at their stations by the guns.
In his wartime diary, Private Lou Hester of the 198th Coast Artillery described the movements of the Regiment immediately after Pearl Harbor:
“I was at Fort Ontario at that time and on a weekend leave. We left Ontario in convoy with full equipment. It was a cold trip all the way and we were half frozen when we arrived. The first couple of days we were quartered in a hanger of the Pratt & Whitney Company. It was warm even though we had to sleep on a concrete floor. We then moved to a former tobacco house. It was dusty and we were packed in like rats. Later on our platoon moved into tents next to our guns which were located next to the parking lot at Pratt & Whitney. Each tent had a small wood stove and a pile of wood. We had steel beds and mattresses. There were six in our tent. We had a cold location as it was open space next to a landing field. At night we would fill the stove with wood till it got red hot and then go to bed. When the pipe clogged up with soot we would have to put on our gas masks because the smoke got so dense. We had to climb to the top of the tent on the outside and tap the spark deflector to stop the smoking. The weather was below zero at times but we didn’t mind it much. It was really good sleeping in the tents. They were better than the warehouse.
We took our showers at a fire station a block away. It was quite convenient. The people of Hartford were swell to us. We were invited to dinner many times and went to one with a friend of mine. We hardly ever ate chow in our kitchen, but went to diners and restaurants. Pratt and Whitney gave us a turkey dinner and entertainment in their cafeteria. It was a delicious meal.”
The primitive accommodations and bitter cold of the first two weeks in Hartford were offset by the memorable Christmas dinner given the regiment by Pratt and Whitney and by the hospitality of the Hartford community. The plant manufacturers went all out to provide a delicious feast and presented the 198th with $7000 collected for the regimental fund. Part of this fund was spent on crested stationery, stamps and regimental insignia for the men. The balance went into a nest egg to provide little luxuries for the men from time to time.
During this time, replacements brought regiment up to full strength of 1850.
Anticipating a move overseas, some of the men married their sweethearts in “war” marriages. Wills were drawn up by one the enlisted men who was a lawyer in civilian life. One ominous sign was the change of address to “APO San Francisco” in mid January. The men were given new up-to-date dogtags, and issued the new Springfield .30 cal. Garand M-1 rifle.
Charleston South Carolina
Finally, word came that the regiment was to move overseas, and at 0700 on Jan. 16, 1942, it left for Charleston, S. C., the port of embarkation, preceded by their guns and equipment. Regimental Commander Col. George Schulz left with the advance party. Some 400 men and 125 vehicles were to be left behind in order for the unit to fit its transport. Executive Officer S.B. Irwin Duncan led the regiment down to Charleston via rail. The train slowed down as it passed through the Wilmington Delaware station where the tracks were lined with well-wishers waving American flags. A similar scene happened at the Newark depot.
Private Lou Hester of the 198th dolefully describes their mobilization activity:
“We were really enjoying ourselves when we had to leave. All of our guns and equipment were put on a train and on the 17th of January we were shipped to Charleston S.C. The name of the camp was O.D.& R. (Overseas discharge and replacement camp). It was a few miles from Charleston. We were there for ten days. I went to Charleston a few times. It wasn’t much of a city. I didn’t have much money because we didn’t get paid. It’s tough without money when you go to town. All you can do is wander around and wish. I was on detail at the docks for a few days. They were loading our ships. A huge Quartermaster depot was being constructed at the time and the place was under military law.
We left for the boat around 8 P.M. One barracks bag preceded us and we had to take the other one with us as our side arms, rifle, knapsack and helmet, (I didn’t have the latter at the time). Our trip was by bus and after a two hour wait at the camp, we got on the buses. It was crowded with all the stuff we carried. When we arrived at the dock, our other bags were in a warehouse, in long lines, thousands of them. We were there until three o’clock in the morning waiting to go aboard.
At last we went up the gangplank and were assigned to quarters in the hold. Two flights down. The passageways were narrow and I thought I was in a dungeon. The goddamn place made me sick. Four bunks high, lines of them, and no room to move around. It looked like hell, and the voyage was HELL!"
The train arrived at Charleston at 0650 on January 17th. The men were given overseas inoculations, and issued gas mask bags and summer uniforms, a clue to their destination. The men complained about the greasy mess hall food, the dirty dishes and utensils, and the surliness of the mess personnel. The regiment was in Charleston for eight days and a blanket pass was issued to the men for the final weekend in the States, the last liberty many of them would have for a long time.
At Charleston the 198th Coast Artillery would join with other Army and Naval units for deployment to the South Pacific. The decision to reinforce there had only been made just after Christmas by Admiral Ernest J. King, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. As a result, the lead time for planning had been very brief.
Within a month after the Pearl Harbor attack the U.S. Pacific position was perilous. The Pacific Fleet had been ruinously weakened; Guam and Wake had fallen to the Japanese; the Philippines had been invested and there was no hope of sending them support; the British had lost Hong Kong, and Singapore was under siege; the Japanese had invaded the Dutch East Indies and there was no let-up in the progress of their conquest. To all intents and purposes the enemy would win their war if they could continue their march until Australia and New Zealand were overrun.
Keeping open the line of communications with these two bastions of the South Pacific was a strategic imperative. The northern route, southwest west from Hawaii, was already controlled by Japanese positions in the mandated islands. Only the southern route, via the South Sea Islands, was available for use. If we could hold it, future offensive operations would be possible.
But the line was long, 7,800 miles from Panama to Sydney, and only meagerly provided with supporting bases. A major asset, however, was the fact that the line of communication ran through an island-studded area of the Pacific, still wholly under the control of friendly powers.
The navy recommended that the base be established in Teavanui Harbor on Bora Bora, in the Society group, which was under the control of the Free French government. The establishment recommended was one that would provide tank storage for 200,000 barrels of fuel oil and 37,500 barrels of gasoline, a seaplane base, the installations necessary for a defense detachment of 3,500 men, and suitable harbor facilities. Admiral King approved the recommendation the day it was made. On January 8, 1942, a "Joint Basic Army and Navy Plan for the Occupation and Defense of Bora Bora" was issued which provided that the expedition, labeled “Bobcat Task Force” depart from the United States on January 25.
During the nineteen days which intervened between the completion of the Joint Basic Plan and the sailing of the convoy from Charleston, the coordinating task of CNO continued to be heavy. The complementary plans, the preparation of which had been assigned to Op-30, were issued on 12 January. They summarized the materials which were being assembled by the cognizant Bureaus at the three loading points. They specified the number of naval personnel and the materials for underwater defenses, harbor facilities, local defense, and communications. They included summary instructions for loading, indicating the tonnage assigned to each ship at port. They directed explicitly that "materials ... be so loaded that unloading will be in order of priority: (a) lighterage, (b) shore defenses, (c) fuel tanks, (d) Army housing." "In loading both material and personnel, essential items (were to) be divided between two ships." More detailed loading plans of a less formal nature, were prepared in the Navy Department and entrusted to the officers in direct charge of loading. It is clear that the importance of proper loading was thoroughly appreciated in Washington. The conditions under which loading took place, however, made Op-30's plan incapable of accomplishment.
The assembly of men and materiel would load at three separate ports, the navy at Quonset and Norfolk, and the army at Charleston. The Navy logisticians at Quonset Rhode Island had gained experience with stockpiling and loading as a result of providing Lend Lease material to Britain and Iceland. The transports picked up nets and guns at Norfolk. The Port of Charleston however, was inadequate to the task with limited storage, and railroad trackage alongside the wharf. There was quayside moorage for only three vessels at a time. The local labor force was also not up to the task for such an ambitious undertaking and the stevedores were so slow and inefficient that “Bobcat” personnel had to perform much of the final loading themselves. Supply shortages were filled locally by transfer of equipment from other units in the same Corps area.
Obtaining and assembling the necessary shipping ran into obstacles as well. The Navy could provide only three vessels. The other three had to come from the U.S. Maritime Commission, and required refitting and arming on short notice. One was damaged and was replaced by the U.S. Army Transport Arthur Middleton (APA-25) . Most of the troops from the 198th sailed upon the President Tyler, Alchiba, and the Middleton. The Middleton was a new ship but had to be armed and altered for more troop space. As a result she became unstable and required 1500 tons of ballast to compensate. The Navy failed to act on this shortcoming and she sailed for Charleston with a 12 degree list to port. The Seabees at Charleston tired to make a repair but had their hands full with repairs on the elderly President Tyler. All the ships were finally assembled at Charleston harbor on January 23, 1942.
In loading the ships for the mission many problems were encountered. Both the Army and Navy cargo was poorly marked, sometimes unidentifiable, or arrived at the dock uncrated. With only three ships available at any given time the proper load order could not be followed and the logisticians had to resort to loading whatever ship was available in order to meet the designated sailing date. The President Tyler was found to not have a boom heavy enough to handle the 7 inch guns which had been allotted to her, requiring her load to be shifted to other vessels, whose loads were in turn disrupted.
About 800 tons of heavy cargo arrived unexpectedly, consisting of pontoons, bulldozers and vehicles which should have been distributed among all the vessels. The three bulldozers alone took over 18 hours to properly load. All vessels were ordered to load “to capacity” and so there was a last minute scramble to add an additional few hundred tons of cement, rebar, additional rations, and other materiel, all of course, out of planned sequence.
The 198th mounted their .37 mm antiaircraft weapons on the decks of the merchant ships in the convoy manned by Batteries “F”,”G”, and “H” both as a way to transport them, and also as a means of self defense against hostile aircraft.
Despite all these roadblocks and obstacles, in a near miracle of accomplishment after a few short weeks of planning the Task Force set sail on January 27.
The 198th was among the first United States units to deploy for overseas after the outbreak of war another tribute to its superb training and the high regard in which it was held. Two days after their original target date, they sailed from Charleston SC on January 27, 1942 with Bobcat Task Force (TF 5614). The task force consisted of S.S. Irenee DuPont, freighter, U.S.S. Mercury (AK -42) freighter, U.S. S. Hamul (AK-30) freighter, S.S. President Tyler, troopship, U.S.A.T. Arthur Middleton (APA-25) troopship (formerly the African Comet) and U.S.S. Alchiba (AKA-6) a troopship originally built by Sun Ship in nearby Chester PA. These ships were escorted by the light cruiser U.S.S. Richmond (CL- 9), a tanker, and six destroyers.
Lieutenant Colonel David Harrington of the 198th notes in his diary:
January 28, 1942 Weather –cloudy cool and windy, sea – rough, several men sick, Late afternoon sea calming down. Two orders to abandon ship for drill today. Orders just received call for complete blackout at night. No more smoking on deck after dark. Everyone ordered to sleep dressed until further notice. Life preservers must be carried with you at all times.
Their task was to establish a Naval refueling facility on the critical South Pacific sea lanes connecting the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. They were to occupy and defend the island of French Society Islands territory of Bora Bora (codenamed “Bobcat Island”) against possible enemy initiatives in the area. At the time of their departure, no one knew if the Japanese would beat them to the punch, nor if the French forces in the area would fully cooperate. There was a distinct possibility that their objective would be contested by hostile forces.
Their 21-day ocean voyage took them through the Straits of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, passing through the Panama Canal, and across the long reach of the South Pacific. The DuPont experienced trouble and briefly dropped back, but was able to rejoin the convoy and complete the voyage. In Panama the task force took on additional supplies. The men were given their final destination, code named “Bobcat Island” only after they entered the Pacific Ocean. They received a new escort at Panama as well, which now constituted the two elderly light cruisers U.S.S. Trenton (CL-11) and U.S.S. Concord (CL-10) and two destroyers from the Southeast Pacific Force.
It was a long and very hot voyage, especially for those below decks. Some soldiers literally passed out from heat exhaustion. There was a shortage of “heads” on board given the ships large overcrowded company. Master Sergeant Herbert E. Abbott noted in his diary that, "after boarding ship, two meals a day were served, with no salt, sugar or pepper." The monotony was broken by the occasional submarine alert (false alarms), flying fish sightings, and lifeboat drills. Many slept on deck to relieve the heat in the holds.
Photo of the Equator Ceremony presided over by King Neptune
The rookie “Pollywogs” were initiated into the “Order of Neptune” by the veteran “Shellbacks” in a ceremony as the men crossed the equator. As they approached their destination, the men were given exercises and some training in addition to their drills and alerts. The 198th Regimental Band was on the President Tyler, which sailed close alongside the Middleton so both ships companies could enjoy a concert at sea. During the last few days at sea the ship was perilously short of water and it was severely rationed. What little the men got had a very disagreeable taste.
Another nearly concurrent task force (TF 6814) had departed Brooklyn a few days earlier on January 23 also bound for the South Pacific. It arrived in Australia on February 26 and then redeployed about a week later for New Caledonia where it landed unopposed. Task Force 6814 was also a largely National Guard force with including units from Illinois and North Dakota. These forces would eventually become known as the “Americal” Division.
The Bobcat Taskforce (TF 5614) included approximately 4,300 officers and men, under the command of Brigadier General Charles Ostrom. It had a Navy element of 23 officers and 451 sailors led by Commander Carl H. Sanders that included a seaplane scouting squadron, (Vought OS2U Kingfisher) fuel depot operators, support and harbor control personnel and Detachment 1, First Construction Battalion (Seabees).
The Army element was much larger, including 192 officers and 3645 enlisted men. Army units included most of the 102nd Infantry, two batteries of the 99th Field Artillery Battalion (Pack Howitzer) Headquarters, 3rd battalion and batteries “F”, and “H” 13th Coast Artillery (Harbor Defense), the 695th Signal Aircraft Warning and Reporting Company, the 8th Station Hospital and miscellaneous support elements. The largest Army contingent with approximately 1450 troops was the 198th Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft), Delaware National Guard, commanded by Col. George Schulz, who also served as Executive Officer to General Ostrom. Schulz was the senior Colonel with the Task Force.
The Bobcat venture was a joint Army-Navy operation, a notoriously difficult task, and indeed, the first American operation of this type since the Spanish-America War. The Bobcat plan assigned responsibility to the Navy for shore construction at the new base and for transportation overseas, while to the Army fell responsibility for the defense of the island and subsistence ashore after the expedition had arrived at its destination.
The task force arrived at their destination on Bora Bora on February 17 and landed unopposed. Their arrival marked just 48 days since the whole operation had been conceived.
Their first station overseas was greeted with delight by the men of the 198th. After hastening off to war, their destination was a tropical island paradise, almost completely untouched by civilization. It was the island of Bora Bora in the French Society Island group, known for security purposes as "Bobcat Island."
Once again, Private Hester has described the locale in his wartime diary:
"On the 17th of Feb. we first sighted land. At first it appeared to be a cloud on the horizon. As we drew nearer, it looked like a huge mountain rising out of the ocean. It was an awesome sight. From a closer distance the island appeared to be a black mass of rock with two mountains. Low hanging clouds hid the top of one from view.
As we came nearer it began to take on color. There were a great many coconut trees. They were all along the beach, and along the ridge of the hills. The rest was a tropical green growth. The island was surrounded except for the entrance, by a coral reef. The ocean beat against the reef causing white foam and the water was a light green color.
Nature itself has given the island a good deal of protection from attack by sea. The island is surrounded by a coral reef except for the channel opening. An attack by sea for the purpose of a landing is almost impossible except for breaking through the channel.
The channel we entered was just wide enough to admit a ship with enough room to spare. It wasn’t long before we were in the harbor. The water was smooth and a deep green in color. The island really looked beautiful now- A tropical paradise.
The ship dropped anchor and we were officially at our destination – Bora Bora."
Bora Bora is an island in the Society Islands group in French Polynesia, 140 miles (225 km) northwest of Tahiti, 2700 miles (4350 km) south-southeast of Pearl Harbor, and 1420 miles (2290 km) east of American Samoa. The island is surrounded by a barrier reef some 8 miles north to south and 6 miles east to west. This reef is very wide to the south and west and is rimmed with barrier islands to the east, north, and northwest. There is only one pass through the reef, Teavanui Pass to the west, but this is deep and leads directly into the excellent natural anchorage of Teavanui Harbor southwest of the central island. This is protected to seaward by hilly Tupua Island. A second smaller anchorage is located at Fanuii Bay on the northwest coast of the central island. These features made the island a good site for a naval base, the one significant liability being a shortage of fresh water. However, there was not a single pier in the harbor when war broke out.
Vaitape, on Teavanui Bay, is the principal town. When the advance-base expedition arrived, the population numbered about 1400, with less than half a dozen permanent white residents.
LTC David Harrington, of the 198th Regiment describes the island in his diary entry of February 28, 1942:
“Weather clear and hot. Slept well on the island last night. We are in the northern part of the island on the western side. There are two large bays on this side of the island named Viatape and Fanuii bays. They make excellent harbors for the ships. The coral reefs extend out from shore about 100 yards, and are covered with water about two feet deep. Then it drops off to deep water. The center of the bays are about 150 to 200 feet deep. “
Establishing a defensible position on the island was among the first priorities. Although their landing was unopposed, there was the possibility of attack from a Japanese war machine that appeared to be unstoppable. Private Hester’s diary reveals:
"February 22, 1942 Put guns in position. Rained most of the day. It’s the rainy season. Had coconut milk. Out platoon is in a new area. Got soaked today.
March 4, 1942 An attack was expected today. We have to carry side arms and rifles to and from details. Worked after supper and went to bed."
After attending to basic needs such as shelter and defense, the men of the 198th regiment were distracted from their primary mission of antiaircraft defense and put to work on a variety of tasks which would keep them occupied throughout the remainder of the spring and summer. They unloaded vessels, built roads and bridges, water and communication infrastructure. They moved from their tents to Quonset huts by April. To a large extent, the soldiers essentially became Seabee augmentees in support of the strategic objective to establish a refueling base. They quarried rock, and dug latrines, erected buildings, cleared jungle, and assembled fuel storage tanks and lines. The business of establishing a refueling base took growing priority over the business of defending that base as time passed, and the enemy threat receded.
Private Lou Hester’s diary records the drudgery:
March 15, 1942 Had to help the Navy move goods to their store hut. It rained hard today. My dinner in the open was ruined as a result. March 16, 1942 Unloaded cement and lumber at the pier. March 17, 1942 Unloaded cement and lumber all day. There are thousands of bags of cement. It’s hard work. March 18, 1942 Worked on the pier unloading cement and lumber. March 19, 1942 Worked on the road all day. It rained all day and everything got wet and muddy. Gave my wash to a native to launder. March 20, 1942 Unloaded cement and lumber at the pier today. It rained a little. Not enough to make us stop working. March 21, 1942 Worked at pier unloading cement. A destroyer, cruiser, and a hospital ship came in. We thought the latter was the mail boat, but it wasn’t. The warships left later. March 22, 1942 Worked on the road filling in. The hospital ship left in the morning. The U.S.S. Middleton also left after being here 34 days. March 23, 1942 Worked on the pier all day. It rained a little. A ship came in but went out as soon as it finished refueling. March 24, 1942 Worked on the road all day. We thought the mail ship would come in today but it didn’t. That’s the only thing we want to see.
The relentless effort to secure the island and build the naval supply base was relieved by frequent movies in the evening, and exploration of the island and its natives. There was a library with 900 volumes. Mail took about six weeks to reach the States on cargo ships, but became fairly regular after the troops had settled in. The natives in grass skirts performed “hula hula” dances to entertain the troops. They were described as a “well built race, strong and hardy”. They supported themselves mostly by fishing, gardening and handicrafts. Bora Boran main crops were coconut, pineapple, melons, guava and breadfruit. The locals were adept at making a pineapple beer and a banana beer. The Islanders cultivated Vanilla Orchids, a delicate parasitic plant that required hand pollination, found only on Bora Boara and Mozambique. The soldiers had very little to spend their money on besides gambling and card games. They purchased items at the canteen when there was sufficient stock, and a few native crafts and souvenirs. See “The Grass Skirts of Bora Bora”.
The tropical climate of Bora Bora provided plenty of heat, humidity and heavy rainfall that yielded an abundance of mud. There were a number of pests ranging from mosquitoes, to furry black scorpions, to six-inch reddish brown centipedes. The soldiers composed a song called the "Bobcat Blues"
"Of course there were soggy dripping skies, And also mosquitoes, ants and flies, We did not disturb them as gaily they played, Cause believe it or not, they had us outweighed."
When the “Bobcat” expedition arrived at its destination on February 17, problems arose which overshadowed those encountered during the planning and mounting of the expedition. The terrain of Bora Bora was different from what had been shown on the mid-19th century French map that the planners had had to use. An existing water supply the expedition expected to use turned out to be a myth. Relations with the French authorities were not wholly smooth. Cooperation between Army and Navy was not perfect. They were to pay dearly for their haste in Charleston. Above all, cargo had been badly loaded. Equipment needed immediately had been stowed deep in the ships' holds. Important items of equipment had been omitted from the outfitting lists or left on the wharf in the United States. This first attempt at a significant overseas expedition took 52 days to unload but taught the U.S. services many lessons in logistics. The effect of bad loading was succinctly stated by Commander Sanders, "I believe that we could have saved three to four weeks ... if the ships had been properly loaded ...
Difficulties of unloading, the unforeseen necessity to provide a water supply, and other impeding factors combined to delay until April 2 the start of construction of the tank farm which was “Bobcat’ s” primary reason for existence.
Upon arrival of the expedition, unloading commenced at once, but six weeks were required for the operation. Bridgeheads to the beach had to be established, as there were only two small coral piers, at Vaitape and at Fanui, available, and these would not support heavy loads.
Moreover, there was only one single-lane road, with a number of small bridges. The heavy Army trucks soon broke down the small bridges and culverts and tore up the roadbed. Road work had to be undertaken at once, but without the proper equipment for there was no road-building machinery available and only one small rock crusher. A large portion of the detachment's continued effort was expended in attempts to improve and maintain in passable condition the roads connecting the installations.
Unloading cargo from the ships was the detachment's first job, a difficult one owing to improper loading and a lack of landing facilities. No weight-handling equipment was available, and it took three weeks to locate and unload the first crane. Pontoon barges could not be assembled until the tie rods and accessories needed had been uncovered from beneath other cargo. Rain and mud added to the difficulties. Large quantities of construction materials, such as cement, tools, heavy pipe, and special fittings, were scattered along a 2-mile beach.
Eventually, causeways were built out to deep water and a marginal pier, large enough to permit discharging cargo from two hatches, was constructed.
In the course of 18 months, the “Bobcat’s” unloaded 60,000 tons of cargo.
Reconnaissance of the island disclosed that much of the information about local conditions used by the base planners, such as character of terrain and availability of water supply, was deficient and erroneous. The water supply the “Bobcats” expected to find was non-existent, and as the dry season was approaching, rapid steps had to be taken to insure an adequate supply of water. Within two weeks after the landings, construction of a water system was initiated by building dams on the main streams. At the end of two months, four dams had been built and a distribution system, comprising 13 miles of 4-inch pipe, supplied the camps scattered along the perimeter of the island.
Work on the harbor defense batteries was also slow, but by the middle of March, construction on this major project was well under way. Eight 7-inch guns from the Pre-World War I battleship Connecticut had to be mounted on skids for hauls 1,000 to 2,000 feet up the side of 45-degree slopes. Besides the gun emplacements, eight magazines, four battery command posts, and one harbor- defense command post were built.
Private Lou Hester of the 198th regiment wrote in his Diary:
"On the channel side of the island 37mm antiaircraft guns and anti-tank guns stretch from Vitapi to the Navy base. This covers half the island. The other side of the island is defended by the three inch anti-aircraft guns and also thirty caliber machine gun nests. Seven inch naval guns guard the island against an attack by sea. Seven of these guns are mounted on the hills at vantage points around the island. They have an effective range of approx. fifteen miles.
Searchlights are also set up at various points along the hills. They are protected from low-flying planes by fifty caliber machine guns.
At other points are sound detectors that can pick up the sound of a plane and ship at a radius of one hundred miles."
By the time the detachment was released from unloading duties, the personnel assigned to the air station had installed temporary facilities sufficient to permit operation of planes. On April 11, the Navy “Bobcats” took over completion of the project and began work on a concrete seaplane ramp, a compass-calibration rose, permanent gasoline-storage facilities, and the erection of huts for shops and personnel. Ten 5,000-gallon tanks were buried in the mountainside just behind the camp and connected by underground feed lines with the gasoline pits near the ramp. A hangar for Vought OS2U Kingfisher aircraft was constructed from a 40-by-100-foot Quonset-hut storage building by raising the entire building 21/2 feet above the ground and leaving one side open. There was sufficient depth of water and length of runways within the lagoon to permit the take-off of any type of plane in any direction. The base could accommodate one patrol squadron of 15 planes. PBY's were the heaviest planes that could be handled over the ramp. Concealment of both ramp and aircraft at the naval air station was fairly effective due to the heavy growth of coconut palms.
Thus, construction of the fuel-oil depot, the major facility of “Bobcat”, was greatly delayed by the many demands upon the extremely limited number of skilled men and the amount of construction equipment available. Rough terrain further complicated the building. Areas had to be blasted out of solid rock, and the soil encountered with the rock was a clay which was difficult to handle when wet. The tanks were erected by fashioning a guy derrick from two tubular-steel radio masts. By setting up the derricks at the tank center, the sides were hoisted into place and bolted together in a continuous circle, at the rate of 21/2 to 3 days per tank. Army personnel, numbering about 725, worked with the detachment seven days a week on three shifts to complete the construction of the first eight tanks by June 9 so that the first tanker to arrive could be promptly emptied. On the day of completion, sea- loading connections were made and pumping to the tanks was begun while some of the bolts were still being tightened. The completed fuel depot consisted of twenty 10,000-barrel storage tanks, two 10,000-barrel diesel-oil storage tanks, and five 1,000-barrel aviation-gasoline storage tanks.
Soon French, American, New Zealand, and Australian ships began to fuel at Bora Bora on the average of one or two ships per week. Since the docking facilities were poor, the ships had to pull up to one of the two cruiser moorings, anchor, and take on the fuel hose there. Nevertheless, by mid- summer of 1942, Bora Bora became a filling station for ships going to the Southwest Pacific. The battle-damaged cruiser Boise stopped for fuel and water on its way back to the States.
The Army planned to ship fighters to the island, assemble them, and fly them from one island to another on the way to the front. For this reason, in October 1942, construction of an air depot was proposed; the Army was to furnish the necessary equipment and materials and the Navy was to provide the construction personnel. Work was started on December 16, 1942, on a 24-hour day, 7- day-week schedule, on the reef islet of Motu Mute. Construction of an asphalt-paved 6,000-by-400- foot runway with 100-foot shoulders for bombers and a 3,000-by-150-foot airstrip for fighters was completed in seven weeks, together with installation of radio direction devices and permanent camp facilities for Army flying and operating personnel. By April 5, 1943, all authorized work on the airfield and depot had been completed and Seabee personnel moved back to the fuel-depot construction work. Because of the rapid progress of the war, mail and transport planes made only occasional use of the strip.
The detachment kept an organized crew available for the repair of convoys of the recently commissioned LST's, LCT's, YMS's, and subchasers which passed through Borabora on their way to the Southwest Pacific. The “Bobcats” repaired refrigerating plants, diesel engines, electrical wirings, and occasionally performed a major overhaul job.
Camouflage activities began early. Protective concealment painting was applied to the tanks, and netting was used to hide their circular outlines. Native labor was employed in planting such trees, shrubs, grass, and local vegetables as could be used to the best advantage for camouflage. Native labor was seldom used for other purposes, partly because the island had just enough manpower to take care of its own needs. Moreover, when it was used, native labor was found to be unskilled and required much supervision. Money was of little value to them. The only native materials used were coconut logs and coral.
In the original plan it was stated, "Raids on the base during and after its establishment (were) a distinct possibility, but ... a major attack (was) not anticipated in the near future." Had they been opposed, this operation might have been a disastrous failure. The war in the Pacific moved on, and Bora Bora was never threatened. It became a backwater after our victory at Midway in June 1942. In March 1943, the detachment's commanding officer reported that the original scope of work at the naval fuel depot had been completed and recommended that a CBMU be ordered to Bora Bora to maintain it. The war had moved ahead so rapidly that the island's other facilities were no longer needed. Two months later, orders were received from headquarters to dismantle and crate half the huts and equipment for shipment. Army personnel moved westward. By June 30, 1943, surplus material and equipment were shipped to Noumea. The tank farm remained intact.
In the details of its operation, “Bobcat” fell far short of fulfilling the desires of its planners. Yet it was an excellent training school for advance base movements and the enemy was not able to occupy Bora Bora. The (fortunately) bloodless lessons learned in “Bobcat” were applied to joint planning and coordination for future operations in Guam, Normandy and the planned invasion of Japan. And “Bobcat” was not a disaster. The really essential materials were supplied originally and maintained subsequently. If Spam appeared on the menu with distressing frequency, no one starved.
Operation “Bobcat” began with Task Force 5614 landing 5,000 men from 102 Regiment (minus a battalion), 198 Coast Artillery Regiment (Antiaircraft), and 1 Naval Construction Battalion with 20,000 tons of supplies on the island. Eventually the garrison had eight 155mm coastal defense guns, and by early 1943 an airfield and aircraft assembly facility with a 5000' (1520 meter) runway was constructed on Motu Maue on the northern tip of the ring of barrier islands. However, the U.S. victory at Midway ensured that the Japanese would never seriously threaten the island.
After six months on the island the men of the 198th were alerted to a move, rumored to be Guadalcanal, or Port Moresby New Guinea. For an unknown reason the alert order was cancelled to the disappointment of the men, who were eager to move on. After this period, most of the intense labor of constructing a base was nearing completion. The men were given a more relaxed working schedule and enjoyed softball games, movies, and hula shows in their leisure time. A six page mimeographed regimental newsletter, the “Vea Bobcat” was published weekly.
On January 1st, 1943, the War Department reorganized the organization from a mobile to a semi- mobile regiment. The searchlight battalion was inactivated as a result. This created promotion opportunities for many of the enlisted men to the noncommissioned grades. The version from Private Hester’s diary reads:
"January 5, 1943 Our battery was re-organized. Men were changed around from hut to hut. I’m still in the same gun squad. They gave me P.F.C. Going up – maybe."
The regiment had spent a year on Bora Bora, fortifying the island against the probability that the Japanese drive might not be slowed down before it reached the Society Islands. The unit had done what it came here for, even if it had begun to overstay its welcome. Many of its best soldiers had been rotated back to the states to attend Officer’s Candidate School. About 40% of the original 1200 men who deployed, or about 500 soldiers, were eventually commissioned during the course of the war. Morale had begun to sag among the remaining soldiers. Its former high level of proficiency had been eroded by a year of garrison duty characterized by boredom and inaction. The 198th unit identity as a Guard outfit began to fade somewhat as draftee replacements arrived. Only about 400 of the original contingent remained in the theater of war by August, 1943. The unit had become an all- American unit with representation from all 48 states as replacements and reinforcements arrived from stateside.
In January 1943 the men were once again alerted for a short notice move. This time it was for real. Exactly one year after their arrival, the men of the 198th Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft) loaded onto a transport the U.S.S. Henry T. Allen, (APA-15) and a freighter carrying their equipment to the island of Efate in the New Hebrides Group.
Bora Bora, Isle supreme. You’re a South Sea Island dream. Scented flowers and rippling Bays, gay and happy days.
Bora Bora sunny land carefree life and shining sand. Palm trees swaying tall and green, mountains so serene.
Song of the Islands was meant just for you. Queen of the ocean waves of deepest blue.
Although we’ll go some day, in my heart you’ll always stay. In my dreams you’ll always be, ever near to me.
The Bobcat Blues, or Coals from New Castle
I want to apologize in manner mild For the following – my brainchild. Please excuse the lack of rhyme But I didn’t have a lot of time. Reference to persons alive or dead Are guaranteed not to swell the head. For this you see is a poem unique Of the manners in which we came and saw And then sat down to do nothing more If there are objection – and it could happen Why not tell it to the Chaplain.
In nineteen hundred and forty two Our gang did sail the ocean blue To fightin’ a war of attrition Against the Japs and their ambition. We came in sight of a coral atoll To be the square pegs for this round hole. For three days we lay becalmed By tropic beauty-Vastly charmed. By night and day we did wonder Who would make the biggest blunder. We voted to land amid “shot and shell” An end in heavan or an end in hell. All in a spirit that was quite true blue Anyway we were tired of Middleton Stew. And land we did in manner daring The eyes of countless crabs were staring.
No came the good news – Hurrah and whee! We were going to on ration”C”. There were beans and hash and also stew Pure and wholesome and tasty too. And variety could be had in endless stream By having coffee without any cream. There were biscuits and candy and sugar three lumps, Those fellows on shipboard sure were chumps. We spread our tents on the soft white sands And drifted off to that dreamy land. Of course there were soggy dripping skies And also mosquitoes, ants and flies. We did not disturb them as gaily they played ‘Cause believe it or not they has us outweighed. Thru the long black night we turned and tossed And wrestled with crabs and always lost And when the rays of the Sun o’er the mountain were bent We were in the crab holes - and they were in the tent.
Our guns were set up without hesitation We did not permit a moment’s relaxation. Now came construction of roads and piers And requests for details- drove old Ford to tears. We filled in the road and watched it sink And as we did we paused to think. A car stopped near as stop it must A booming voice – a hand outthrust. “I have a rock crusher – ton a day! If I can help you in any way. I’m Sylvester - Force Engineer Speak twenty languages - Care to hear? Annapolis graduate – first in my class Now fix this damn road and let me pass!” So into the hole we happily threw Rock and sand and gravestones too. And as we watched a road was born And away he drove to blow his horn. This chief of all the engineer staff Would have to have men that could stand the gaff. There would be Gordon and Haitsch to build his bridges And Haggerty and Seddon to top the ridges. Young Healey would blast the coral strand And warm the heart of this great man. And all would run with happy screech To listen to his nightly speech.
But enough of this we had to eat And back we marched in the dripping heat. Back to our goodies, our hash and meat Back to our coffee, our creamless treat. As we sat midst this sumptuous repast We figured our work was done at last. But no! For galloping through the gloom Rode messenger Tappman like the crack of doom. Holstered his pistol with fluid grace And ran up panting from his recent race. “Ten men for a detail at the pier But do not be blue and do not fear It won’t take long, it’s just a barge.” I never knew they were so large! We worked – we sweated- we hauled Bossed by a C.P.O. who stood there and bawled. “Let’s get going - let’s work – don’t lag.” Said we, “Blow it out your barracks bag!” Then back to our round little trudle bed Our tail dragging and damned near dead. Spread our blankets ‘neath the stately palms And off to sleep in Morpheus’ arms. The crabs it seemed had left our huts Unnerved by falling coconuts.
Up in the morning bright and cheery Off to breakfast – Ration C weary. Then the good news – toll the bell All our “C” Rations can go to hell. Our kitchen’s ashore and soon we all Will be eating in our own mess hall. But wait, the awful news is heard The R.S.O. has given us the bird. Three more days on you know what Three more days at the same old pot. Three more days to rant and rave Three more days at appetite’s grave. Some day we’ll have our mess Day’s full of happiness. And then it came – like a bolt from the blue We’d have “C” Rations – and Pineapple too! But bendler brought his motley crew To stick their fingers in our stew. Sat at our table and ate like a horse Criticized our mess – in manner coarse. Our linen it was spotless – except for one or two Not a single fly –except for those that flew.
VI Then came ‘alerts’ – stand by your guns We’ll stand here ‘til the day is done. Up the hill! Down the hill! Will we won’t? Or will we will! Movies for those whose work is done But a hundred percent must be at the gun. Then the day in story told Of how our group became so bold. As to fire a primer in defiance of death While the Bobcat Force did hold their breath. “Twas the 14th of March at half past nine We marched to our gun at the edge of the brine. “Stand back,” the Ordnance Captain shouted And we who heard has never doubted That the primers when fired would cause an awful din. So back we stood as without fear He pointed the gun at an area clear And then with manner debonair Fired tow caps in the warm, still air.
But now the plague has hit our land Has drained our strength into the sand, Latrines we’ve used up a by the score And we’ll dig and fill as many more. We run –we stop- we turn-go back And take clean underwear from our pack. Do you know the cause? – Don’t guess! It all started in “H” Battery’s mess. And as we sit with manner taut And do much more than we know we ought. What will it get us- where will it lead? Those awful heaps –these piles that bleed. We could use glue and sawdust too But we’d not get thanks – if we put out planks I think it’s the way the staff has meant We’re to get the boards for the floor of our tent. The medics are trying –they’re fearless as Marines If reincarnation is a fact- and I know what I will be A very large cow clod ‘neath a coconut tree.
Now and then the chief’s daughter passed Gave us the eye- the winsome lass. As Kipling wrote in manner neat East and West shall never meet. But day by day in manner strange Their complexion seems to change. And I the proper sort of light I think you’d swear that they were white.
And now that you’ve heard my purty pome I’ll pack my bags for the voyage home I know the above is adequate proof That I’m a nut , a bob, a goof. There should not be any debate In marking my discharge Section eight. Give me a ticket, marked one-way! Back to the good old U.S.A. Once back on American soil On a defense job I will toil. For as Churchill said and you all agreed The tools to lick them is all they need.
Ervan F. Kushner, “Bogged Down in Bora Bora” A History of the 198th Coast Artillery Regiment (Antiaircraft) on Bora Bora Island, 1942-1943, 1984, Kushner Books Paterson NJ
William H. Conner, Leon deValinger Jr., “Delaware’s Role in World War II”, 1955 Public Archives Commission, State of Delaware,
“Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II, History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946,” U.S. Government Printing Office Washington DC 1947,
“U.S. Naval Administration in World War II, Office of Naval Operations, the Logistics of Advanced Bases, Basic Maintenance Division, OP-30 (OP-145)”, U.S. Government Printing Office Washington DC 1947,
MG Bruce Jacobs, “A Tale of Two Convoys:1942” National Guard magazine, p.122, Date unknown ca. 1991
LTC Charles R. Shrader, U.S. Army Retired, “Bobcat, Rapid Deployment in 1942,” Military Review, March 1989,
The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia, http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/B/o/Bora_Bora.htm
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