Fill Out a Requisition
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Fill Out a Requisition

Robert Strange McNamara seemed to think that a submarine at sea was simply an inconvenient branch office. He had been president of a U.S. auto manufacturing concern before he became Secretary of Defense, and the military began to take on some superficial characteristics of business efficiency. But our business was not efficiency. Our business was destruction.

It can be argued that an aircraft carrier is large enough, and complex enough, that a system of parts and supplies based on the General Motors approach would produce benefits. And I don't doubt that it did. However, on the submarine, there were difficulties.

In the Old Navy (a phrase that I heard thousands of times each year), each piece of equipment had a box of spare parts. There was a list in each box, and the mechanic checked off his parts list each time he was loading out for sea. In the automated Navy, all the parts lists were consolidated into one, and a storekeeper, who did not know a check valve from a diode, was given absolute authority over the issuing of these parts. The bureaucracy was overwhelming.

One time we got a message from CincLantFleet headquarters (Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet) in Norfolk, telling us to immediately start using a new form for the Monthly Fuel and Steaming Hours Report. The Federal Stock Number for the new form was included in the message. I couldn’t verify the stock number, because is was too new to be in my catalog, but the checksum for the stock number matched, so I ordered six pads of the forms. I received six Pitot tubes, intended for the airspeed indicators of subsonic aircraft. Headquarters had made this mistake.

Sometimes I'm a slow learner. When we got a message telling us to immediately order new, improved red "Danger" tags, or else we would flunk our next inspection, I ordered the tags. This time headquarters got the stock number correct. It was the Unit of Issue that they got wrong. These things were issued by the hundred, and not one at a time. Did you know that it takes two pickup trucks to deliver 100,000 of those newfangled red danger tags?

And these were just some of the mistakes that were not my fault. (I’m not about to tell you about my mistakes.)

There were some classic stories in the submarine force about the problems with the supply system. The most famous was probably the letter from the skipper of the Skipjack, early during WWII. The logistic support for the submarine force was quite weak in those days. Admiral Lockwood took over as ComSubSoWesPac in May, 1942, and he started kicking tail and taking names among the bureaucrats ashore. Things improved tremendously. However, before the results of his actions were widespread, the following letter was received on the mainland. *Concerning Paper Work*

I wondered if Coe was exaggerating about the depth charges. I checked the record, and I found Skipjack credited with the following sinkings in May of 1942.

Date    Name        Type       Tonnage  Lat.    Long.
May 6   Kanan Maru  Cargo      2,567    12-05N  109-35E
May 8   Bujun Maru  Cargo      4,804    12-00N  111-10E
May 17  Tazan Maru  Passenger  5,478    6-22N   108-36E

In those days, Japan had a lot more Navy in the area than the Allies had, so depth-charge attacks were likely.

When I was in submarine school, I roomed with a supply officer who was based on the submarine tender that supported the Polaris boats in that area. He told the story, probably apocryphal but extremely plausible, of the time the USS George Washington Blue Crew was loading out to go on Polaris patrol. The hospital corpsman who was assigned to help the doctor get ready for the deployment conducted an inventory. He found that one piece of surgical equipment was missing. He ordered it, but he just wrote 1 for quantity, instead of writing 00001, as required. He also coded the requisition to indicate that this item was officially required for the Polaris submarine to go on deterrent patrol, at the height of the cold war.

Are you ahead of me on this one? Of course, there was no higher priority in the federal supply system. And the keypunch operator had filled in the "quantity" field with trailing zeros instead of leading zeros, resulting in an order for ten thousand of these instruments.

And the item they supposedly needed in our ultimate defense against the Evil Empire?

Circumcision scissors.

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