Buoy Tender Duty In
The South Pacific
By C. W. "Bill" Bailey
Extracted from Chapter Three of Captain Bailey's Autobiography, "You Can So, Eat Your Cake And Have It Too" ©2002 - All Rights Reserved
Reprinted By Permission
we were on our way to the far Pacific, our destination Guam, which was still in
Japanese hands. We were traveling alone except for a group of landing craft
called LCIs. Being senior in rank to the skippers of the LCls, we were in
charge, and thus responsible for the safety of our little convoy. We were too
slow to join a regular Navy group.
reached Kwajalein Atoll without event except for exchanging movies among the
ships. Kwajalein was a staging area for the next invasion: Tinian, Saipan, and
Guam. The atoll was filled with ships of all sizes and types. After a week here,
we joined a slow Navy convoy and headed for Guam, arriving just as the cruisers
and destroyers were shelling the harbor. Although the harbor had not yet been
secured; we were ordered to go in, launch a ship's motorboat and send a sounding
party in to find, and mark with small buoys, a channel leading to the beach for
the first contingent of Marines to go ashore to fight. This was our baptism
Exec, I was in charge. We had one seaman in the bow armed with a rifle with
orders to look for isolated Japs. The rest of us were heaving lead lines and
using sounding poles as we steered here and there to find water deep enough for
the landing craft. Meanwhile the off-shore ships were firing over our heads to
soften up the shore. We were quite happy and relieved to see the landing boats
filled with Marines come speeding past us, heading for the beach and battle. Our
job was finished so we "got the hell out of there quick."
next day the Japs had been driven back enough to make the harbor secure and we
brought the ship in to anchor. Little did we know that this was to be our home
base for the next year or more. It was very hot and the crew had been sleeping
out on deck. I slung my hammock in between the depth charge racks on the stem,
hanging my pistol on one side and my knife on the other. I was tired and slept
soundly, not knowing that the ship had received a message earlier, warning about
the possibility of Jap swimmers coming out to plant limpet mines on our hull.
Imagine how I felt when I awoke and found that a seaman had carelessly left a
Jacob's ladder hanging right over the stem where I had slept!
next job was to report to Navy Service Squadron Four for duty. They were known
as "Harbor Stretchers". Their job was to go into an unimproved area
and create a harbor that could be used by large combat and supply ships. The
Squadron consisted of auxiliary ships and a battalion of Seabees. Our task with
them was to plant buoys to mark channels for safe navigation, and a much bigger
job, to locate and plant the large heavy mooring buoys needed for the major
ships. We used what were called "Battleship Moorings" which consisted
of a cylindrical buoy 10 feet in diameter, weighing five tons, connected to a
10-ton clump of concrete as a central anchor by a straight down massive riser
chain, cut to the exact depth of water. Each link of this 2-1/2" diameter
chain weighed 20 lbs. On the top of the buoy there was a large link for the
ship's mooring wire. Down at the bottom where the chain attached to the cement
clump was a massive iron ring to which are attached three leg chains that lead
out flat along the sea bottom several hundred feet to a massive battleship
anchor weighing 15 tons.
of the above describes only one mooring buoy capable of holding the largest
ship. Over the next year we set many of these. Each buoy was a five day job in
itself to assemble and plant. The material had been sent out from the states in
a cargo ship dedicated to this purpose, filled with buoys, chain and anchors.
The ship would come into the harbor and tugs would put it alongside a shallow
reef on which the equipment could be dumped by the ship's cargo booms.
had a flat barge made up of a few sections of temporary floating docks that the
big LSTs brought out, slung alongside these 350' vessels and cut loose when
required. We built an A-frame hoist on one end of the barge, and mounted a
gasoline engine winch to haul the material aboard from the shallow waters. We
had two extra-large outboard propelling engines affixed to the stem of the
barge, and now we had a self-propelled barge with hoist and hauling capability.
Assigned one officer and an eight man crew, the barge made trips all day long to
bring the massive material out to our ship for assembly.
Coast Guard Buoy Tender, TUPELO, was 180 feet long, and had a large open deck
from the focs'le back almost to amidships, with open ports in the bulwarks on
each side. It had a massive 30-ton boom (derrick) with three separate hoisting
is how we prepared a mooring: The barge was brought alongside, the boom was
swung out and a hook was lowered with chain or wire slings to
buoy ports could only accommodate one chain leg at a time, so we
moorings had to be set in exact positions so on the big day the two ships, tied
together, got underway and went to the approximate position. Maneuvering the
ships in accordance with pre-determined sextant angles of distant objects
ashore, we would hoist out the central clump on the riser chain using two of our
boom hoisting tackles, and gently lower it down hand-over-hand to the bottom. As
it was lowered each lashed section of leg chain had to be cut loose so that the
leg chains would go down together with the riser chain. This required closely
supervised coordination in order to do it safely.
the central clump was on the bottom the Navy ship backed away in the prescribed
direction slowly stretching out the first leg of chain. She then lowered the
anchor tripping it clear by using a special remote release link. Next, she came
in perpendicular to our buoy deck at a new 120 degree angle, and we hung the
second anchor on her horns. As she backed away, we cut the successive lashings
on the sections of leg chain. Once again she lowered and stretched out the leg
the same procedure was done once more on the other side of our ship, and the job
was complete. It took an entire day to set the buoy after all the assembling had
been accomplished. Meanwhile, our barge had been busy loading up with the next
mooring. No rest for the weary. You can see why we needed a hundred men in our
we first got our orders for this job there was no one around to tell us how to
do it. The Navy gave me a set of blueprints and said "Here, study these. Go
get your stuff over on the reef and figure it out for yourselves." Thank
goodness I had a good Chief Bos'ns Mate and other petty officers with prior buoy
tender experience who were able to execute my ideas. I kept a workbook of all
this and when I left the ship they were working on Buoy No. 33. Of course there
were periods when we did a lot of other things as well.
was the time that the Navy sent out a stripped-down Spanish-American War
battleship, the OREGON, loaded with 1500 tons of dynamite. The ship had
been gutted out and was only just a barge now. She was eventually intended to be
sunk to help make the new breakwater that was to enclose Apra Harbor at Guam.
were ordered to intercept a Navy tug a hundred miles at sea and take over her
tow, and bring it to a special mooring near a native village at the south end of
Guam. We had already planted a mooring buoy and were also going to use Oregon's
anchor, which once dropped, could not be raised again since there was no anchor
Navy Admiral decided that he wanted to watch the operation so he came out and
rode on TUPELO. As we approached the channel that the Seabees had blown up in
the reef so we could get the OREGON in, I went aboard her to supervise
the securing to the mooring buoy and the stretching out to where the anchor had
to be dropped. The anchor chain was secured by
was another time when the Navy was getting ready to invade the Philippines and
needed a supply of dynamite for the Seabees to blow up beach obstructions at Palau
Island. We took 250 tons of the 40% gelatin boxes aboard completely filling the
main hold and the entire buoy deck stacked to the height of the bulwarks.
Joining a slow convoy we headed West. This was one time in a convoy that we did
not have to worry about collision with other ships since no one would come near
us. It was on this trip that I drew my pistol and for the first time pointed it
at another human being.
had arrived in the atoll late in the afternoon. The water was too deep to anchor
and a merchant ship was tied up to the only mooring buoy. I brought TUPELO
alongside the ship and asked the Mate on deck for permission to tie up
alongside. He said we could not. It was after working hours and the union seamen
would not take our lines. I told the Mate to get the union representative. A
swarthy, mean-looking individual swaggered out and said, "This is a hungry
ship and they won't pay any overtime." I explained how the Navy needed our
cargo to save the lives of the Marines when they invaded the beach. This did not
impress the man, who
now I had been in the Pacific for what seemed a very long time. I had been
promoted to Full Lieutenant and felt that I had served as X0 here long enough.
Our Captain, whom at first I loved like a father, was also feeling the strain,
and was getting unreasonable with the crew. I felt that the morale of the crew
was important to our job, and as a result I came into conflict with the Captain
a message came in ordering me to return to Honolulu to take command of the Buoy
Tender WALNUT. About this time I started having problems with hemorrhoids, so I
spent most of the nine-day trip on the transport sitting in hot baths. Arriving
in Hawaii, I quickly relieved the departing skipper of WALNUT, and then logged
in at the Naval Hospital for surgery. The ship was in a repair status so the
Exec held things together until I got back a week later.
was a former Department of Commerce Lighthouse Service vessel, built in the
early thirties, was steam powered and had twin screws. A dream of a boat to
handle. We worked entirely in the Hawaiian Islands except for an occasional
supply trip to French Frigate Shoals.
would often tie up at an out-island wharf where the fruit to be shipped was
piled up awaiting transport. They piled the boxes high so one could not get at
the fruit, but they did not realize that we could hoist a man up in a Bos'n's
chair with our boom. All hands enjoyed a feast.
was rather routine (especially after Guam.) I learned how to carve monkeypod
wood candy dishes. Earlier in the war, the Coast Guard, which had taken over the
Steamboat Inspection Service (which examined Merchant Marine seamen for
licenses) had, because of news reports of favoritism in examinations (whether
true or not), declared a moratorium on letting Coast Guard personnel raise
licenses for the duration. Now they had just
appeared at the door of the examiner's office the very next day to apply to
raise my Second Mate's Ocean license. The chief yeoman tipped me off
followed that advice, and seven days of examination later, I had in my hand a
License for Chief Mate, Unlimited Tonnage, Oceans AND Master, Oceans of 1500
Gross Tons, plus all the Pilotage that I had accumulated in prior years. It
wasn't until I got back after the war that I was able to remove the tonnage
limitation on Master.
the war ended there was a scramble of Reserves checking their points to see if
they could yet go home. I had an episode of a seaman threatening me. We had a
third class Bos'ns mate who was always losing his Bos'ns pipe. He was about to
leave for home when we inspected his sea bag, and there was the Bos'ns pipe. He
got bent all out of shape and later (after we all got home) wrote me a
"hate" letter in which he said, "You are hiding behind your two
silver bars (rank insignia), and more than one man has your
address." -- (ad infinitum, ad nauseam). I was not happy to read
this tirade, but I considered the source and promptly forgot about it. Never
again in my thirty year Coast Guard career did I ever experience another such
the spring of 1946, when I was out at French Frigate Shoals, I received a
message ordering us back to Honolulu. I was to take command of one of the newer
buoy tenders, the REDBUD, and take her to the South Pacific Islands to re-supply
the CG Loran Stations scattered about.
towed an LCM (a landing craft capable of hauling a truck), so we could land
supplies on open beaches where there were no docks. This worked fine for a
number of landings. Most of the islands were populated with natives including
bare-breasted maidens. We had a British Consular Official with us since some of
these islands were British. One island had a radio operator with whom I
corresponded after the war and sent him "Care"
went well until we arrived at Johnson Island, a former Pan American Seaplane
Base before the war, and the island that Amelia Earheart was trying to find when
she was lost in her plane. In order to make a landing with the LCM, they had to
have two vehicles down on the beach with winches, to run wires to each side of
the bow of the landing craft. The boat would run for the beach at full speed,
men would quickly hook the tow wires and the vehicles would haul the LCM firmly
up on the beach out of the reach of the surf. Well, this time some person failed
to properly secure the wire rope clamps on one side, and when they hauled away,
one wire parted and the other pulled the LCM broadside in the surf.
got the supplies out but now we had the problem of how to get the boat back off
the beach. Normally a bulldozer would push on the boat's bow and work it back
down into the water until the engines could be started to back the boat off. But
now the engine room was flooded out from the surf and the boat was filling with
sand. There was nothing that the bulldozer could do. These are the days that a
captain dreads. He just has to come up with an answer. REDBUD, a single screw
electric drive ship, had been having main generator problems and one main engine
was down. This left the ship with only half maneuvering power.
was no time for a ship to go fooling around close to shore with only half power.
We had to get the LCM off and launched our small motorboat to run a towing
hawser ashore while I brought the ship in just as close as I dared. We finally
got the hawser made fast. The people ashore had shoveled out most of the sand,
so we pulled the LCM off.
could be expected, an eager beaver jumped aboard and immediately
this was our last scheduled stop, so we headed for home. When I went in to
report to the District Commander, I was surprised to see that he was the officer
I had failed to salute on my first day of duty in the Coast Guard. All he said
was, "Guess you had a rough time, Son!" Shortly after that REDBUD was
assigned to the Navy for duty at The Atomic Test at Bikini. I was called up to
the District Office to see a bunch of Navy Officers waiting to discuss the
problems of establishing navigational aids at Bikini. They put a complete Navy
cargo ship at my disposal to carry all the materials needed for marking the
channels leading into Bikini Lagoon, and for positioning the target ships. We
also sneaked in a cargo of beer.
at Bikini, we went to work for the Navy Hydrographic ship SUMNER. It was fun
working for the Navy since they knew absolutely nothing about buoy work. They
wanted a buoy to be put in an exact position
once again as usual, the Captain was expected to come up with a solution. We had
a fat can buoy under which we hung a large cargo ship-size snatch block which we
bummed from our personal cargo ship. Then we took a cement sinker with 200 feet
of wire rope instead of chain, rove it through the block, and attached an iron
ball normally used to ballast this type of buoy to keep it upright so that it
hung freely as a pendulum. Then with theodolite stations set up at two locations
ashore, we were guided by radio into maneuvering the ship with the buoy hanging
alongside for a couple of hours until we were exactly on their desired
station. Gently setting the sinker down we now had a buoy watching straight up
and down without regard to current or wind drift. The Navy was happy.
Easter Sunday I organized a brass quartet, and we played two
wrapped up our work at Bikini by towing a fresh water barge to
returning to Honolulu, I was relieved and ordered back to the States for
discharge, having accumulated well over the number of points eligible for return
to civilian life.
leaving, a friendly yeoman at the District Office surreptitiously told me that
the Navy had sent in a good report on me and that the Admiral had recommended me
for a permanent commission in the regular Coast Guard.
was no State-side transport available on ships, so I bummed a ride on a Navy
former tuna boat going to San Diego. Having to stand a watch
Captain Bailey remained in the Coast Guard after WWII and went on to many further feats and accomplishments. You can read about them in his book " You Can So, Eat Your Cake And Have It Too" ©2002 - All Rights Reserved" which can be obtained through this link: CAPTAIN BILL BAILEY.
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