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prewar American convoy escorts

May 30 2009 at 1:01 PM
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Nelson  (no login)
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Response to Pensacola Convoy and the Southern Route


Until the time of the Boise convoy just preceding the Pensacola convoy, when that earlier one was challenged by one or two units of the IJN in the Marianas, the danger to American westbound convoys was not considered to be submarines--or even the IJN at all--but German raiders, which had made their appearance in both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Such raiders carried a heavy punch, witness the sinking of HMAS SYDNEY and the loss of her entire crew.

Of course as time progressed, the concern about the Japanese navy grew substantially, but the onset of the cruiser-escorted convoys was due to the threat of raiders, which is why most convoys--not all, as in the case of BOISE--were escorted by heavy cruisers.

The USN had finite resources in the Pacific Ocean and although it had suggested, and at times demanded, that such escorts be provided, on the other hand it resented the need to convoy so frequently, such that one or two heavy cruisers were always away on such duty, and not involved in the hard fleet training that senior officers knew was necessary.

Despite the undeclared war in which the USN found itself in the Atlantic, and thus the threat of German retaliation elsewhere, the need for antisubmarine protection was not considered a strong one, as no U-boats had then appeared in the Pacific. Thus the need for destroyers was small, and given the short legs of such escort vessels, a fleet oiler would have had to accompany each convoy, and those were in short supply, indeed considerably fewer than the cruisers which in the end had to do the job.

Now having written that--and the danger from raiders is not hypothesis, but documented in correspondence at the time--I do think the increasingly frequent use of the southern route was almost certainly due to the danger from the IJN, and BOISE would have reported the mild confrontation she had had. But as far as a specific threat unique to the Pensacola convoy--that certain danger lurked o'er the horizon BEFORE the unexpected air attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines--I know of none. Remember that virtually everybody knew war was coming; few outside the intelligence sections thought it would come so soon. You know what they say about hope springs eternal.

I shall be away for several days, so this will be it for awhile.


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